THE BIGFOOT FILES / Chapter Twenty-Seven: Bigfoot in the Bronx

Bigfoot in the Bronx is another rip-roaring creature feature by the king of cryptid fiction, Hunter Shea. Released in March by Severed Press, Bigfoot in the Bronx takes the concept of the 1987 film Harry and the Hendersons to the next manic level, although the story has a closer kinship with King Kong.

Friends since childhood, Shay and Vito head to the Catskills for their annual deer hunt. The men are struggling financially and feel the pressure of bagging a deer to help feed their families.

When they witness a Bigfoot kill a deer and then drop to the ground apparently dead, Shay’s financial desperation overtakes his common sense. “We have proof of Bigfoot right in front of us. We’re going to be rich!”

The men load the Bigfoot’s body in their truck and store it in a shed in Shay’s backyard. Of course, Bigfoot isn’t dead; it was merely incapacitated by tranquilizer darts from a hidden shooter.

Bigfoot wakes up inside Shay’s shed and goes on a rampage that starts in a cemetery and spills over onto playgrounds, golf courses, subway cars, and the Bronx streets. Add in the day of the year – it’s Halloween – and the confusion escalates as Bigfoot is often mistaken for a man in a costume.

Shay and Vito feel responsible for introducing the monster into civilization, and their deer hunt transforms into a Bigfoot hunt. At one point, the men dress up as Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny to justify carrying guns in public. Yeah, it that’s kind of crazy adventure.

Amidst the chaos and destruction, Shea includes some unexpectedly heartfelt scenes, much like Peter Jackson did in his 2005 film adaptation of King Kong. I felt Shea was rooting for his Bigfoot from the get-go.

While Shay and Vito are not the most likable duo to headline a creature feature, they grew on me by the end because of their empathy and familial motivation. Ultimately, though, Bigfoot in the Bronx is pure madness and mayhem that would make a perfect Saturday night movie on Syfy.

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: Gaia

Plotline: On a surveillance mission in a primordial forest, a park ranger encounters two survivalists following a post-apocalyptic lifestyle. The boy and his philosophical father seem to have their own religion, and a mysterious relationship to nature. There are many suspicious aspects to their existence, but when the cabin is attacked by strange, post-human beings one night, she learns that there is a greater threat in this emergent wilderness.

Who would like it: Fans of religious horror, eco horror, fans of the occult, suspense, the outdoors, and anyone who love a damn good horror movie

High Points: I really believe this is more of a religious/occult movie more than an eco-horror. With that being said, I loved seeing the parallel between the pagan and religious beliefs and practices

Complaints: The black guy dies 1st

Overall: I loved it!

Stars: 4

Where I watched it: Pre-release screener.

 

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Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains.  Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.

When she’s not terrorizing her fans and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences she reviews indie horror and science fiction films for both her personal blog and HorrorAddicts.net

She is also considering changing her professional title to dramatization specialist because it so much more theatrical than being a mere drama queen.

http://wordsmithcrystalconnor.com

http://www.facebook.com/notesfromtheauthor

Download your free copy of …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! from Podiobooks.com and see why the name Crystal Connor has become “A Trusted Name in Terror!” 

http://podiobooks.com/title/and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after

Book Review — “Made in L.A. Vol. 1: Stories Rooted in the City of Angels”

Hello Addicts,

This month’s book review takes us to Los Angeles, CA. The anthology Made in L.A. Vol. 1: Stories Rooted in the City of Angels contains stories written by Los Angeles based authors which take place in or around the Los Angeles area. The tales range from funny to spooky and many genres in between.

The first in the anthology, “Between Broken Pieces,” is about an actress trying to be what everyone expects her to be, no matter how self-destructive it is. The story, shared from the points of view of the four women most directly tied to her life and career, is the kind of tragic story that can carry the tagline, “ripped from the headlines.”

The second standout for me takes place in the Cecil Hotel, “No Vacancy.” A man travels to the famed haunted hotel with a psychic to help him solve a mystery involving his sister that led to her death.

Another that caught my imagination was “Unquiet Baggage.” The story is told from the perspective of a murdered man as he follows the suitcase carrying his remains wherever his husband goes with them. It very much has a “The Lovely Bones” feel about it.

In truth, any of the ten stories included in the anthology is well worth the read. I recommend it to anyone looking for a good rainy day read.

Until next time, Addicts.

D.J.

Merrill’s Musical Musings : Vexillary

Greetings HorrorAddicts I bring you some groovy reviews and righteous recommendations this year to keep your tuneage vibing. Or something like that. Despite the insanity that was 2020, many artists were able to come up with inspired material and I’ll share some great picks with you over the coming months. 

Vexillary is an instrumental project by New York based Reza Seirafi that was influenced by the artist’s love of blending components to create something new. A chemist in his other life, he likes to take seemingly inharmonious sounds and make them fit together. Tracks like “Maritime Panic” offer additional sonic adventures with each new listen. “Annihilation” has a manic feel that leaves the listener grasping at the elements and trying to find something to hold onto. There is a feeling of doom, especially in the opening notes of “Forged Skies” but this offering of electronica is never gloomy, and by the time you reach “The Geneticist,” the mad scientist vibe of the SurViolence is complete.

Vexillary is music for those who need an intense infusion with a side of chaos to make their aural journey complete. Give it a listen and let us know what you think. 

Want to share your favorite music from 2020? Comment below or email me at rlmerrillauthor@gmail.com. The next Ro’s Recs will be less of a “best of” and more of a “here’s what you don’t want to miss.” I’ll see you soon, my HorrorAddict Darlings. In the meantime, Stay Tuned for more Merrill’s Musical Musings…

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R.L. Merrill writes inclusive romance with quirky, relatable characters full of love, hope, and rock ‘n’ roll. You can find her at https://www.rlmerrillauthor.com and on the socials as @rlmerrillauthor. You can also find her Hope, Love, and Queeromance posts over at www.queeromanceink.com

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: “House” Horrors

“House” Horrors by Kristin Battestella

These contemporary horrors both foreign and domestic tackle suburban scares, refugee horrors, family vengeance, and home haunts.

His House – Horror follows a Sudanese couple relocating to England in this 2020 Netflix release starring Wunmi Mosaku (Loki), Sope Dirisu (Black Mirror), and Matt Smith (Doctor Who). Perilous refugee boats begat detention, weekly asylum stipulations, and finally a newly assigned address – a dirty tenement they are lucky to have all to themselves. Despite having already been through so much, our couple laughs until they cry over their gratitude, hopeful for a new start before eerie echoes and shadows that move by themselves suggest there is more afoot than faulty electricity, peeling wallpaper, and holes in the plaster. Well done lighting schemes and dim sunlight through small windows create a moody palette for the background apparitions, ominous hands, kitchen oddities, and eyes watching from within the walls. Flashes of past troubles, childhood fears of the night witch coming to get them, and new scary experiences build tension. Husband and wife both have encounters they don’t admit, and tearful conversations with dark door frames in the background put the viewer on edge with our characters. We think we see or hear something rather than having everything given away thanks to flashlights, masks, tool mishaps, and disorienting figures in the dark. Cultures clash amid the horrors as our refugees struggle to be part of the community, reluctant to use tableware and getting lost in the maze of lookalike attached houses. Cruel neighborhood kids shout “Go back to Africa” and a kind but clueless doctor doesn’t know how to listen to the pain of tribal wars, butchered families, and doing what you have to do to survive. Our couple insists they are good people but must remain on guard against deep-seeded racism even in such crappy conditions. Lazy office workers complain that their falling apart house is “bigger than mine” so they shouldn’t be dissatisfied and “biting the hand that feeds them” – forcing the fearful to retract any moving request and hide the truth about apeth witches and ghostly torments. Although the Dinka dialogue is unfortunately not always translated, it’s superb that this is told from the appropriate angle. This isn’t a yuppie white couple choosing to ignore the spooky house warnings just to get out of the city and play unreliable scares with the audience. Eerie visuals, surreal waters, fog, and candlelight visions combine the personal horrors, supernatural, and real world frazzled as the demands to repay what they owe escalates from wet footprints and flickering light switches to monsters in the floor. Deceptive happy moments and psychological experiences take us to other places without leaving the congested house – reliving why with upsetting revelations that can only be put right with blood. This is a tender story about living with your demons; an excellent example of why horror from other perspectives need to be told.

The Housemaid – Covered furniture, candlelight, staircases, slamming doors, and screams get right to the gothic afoot in this 2016 Vietnamese tale. The grand French plantation in disrepair is out of place among the beautiful forests – reeking with a deadly history of cruel overseers, abused workers, shallow graves, and angry spirits. Rumors of mad wives, dead babies, decaying corpses, drownings, and bodies never found provide horror as the titular newcomer obediently does the housework during the day before the power goes out at night. It’s forbidden to speak of the dark family history, and mirrors, lanterns, and dramatic beds infuse the creepy with Jane Eyre mood. Arguments over sending for a distant doctor or using Eastern medicine for the wounded man of the house give way to sheer bed curtains, sunlight streaming through the window, and a touch of Rebecca in the steamy fireside romance. Unfortunately, a snotty, two-faced, racist rival addresses the awkwardness of the help pretending to be the lady of the house amid resentful servants, war intrigue, classism, and the vengeful ghostly Mrs. roaming the halls. The cradle draped in black rocks by itself, but it’s only for effect as jump scare whooshes, flying furniture, roar faces in the mirror, dream fake-outs, old photos research, and visions of the past create an uneven contemporary intrusion when the period atmosphere is enough. Roaming in the scary woods just for the sake of bones and panoramic ghouls is unnecessary when we should never leave the congested house. Indeed, the horrors are superior when anyone trying to leave the manor encounters a terrible but deserving end. Questionable retellings, confusing ghostly revenge, disbelieving interrogations, and flashbacks within flashbacks play loose with point of view, but a not so unforeseen twist clarifies the demented duty over love begggeting the horror. Some viewers may be disappointed that the movie trades one kind of horror for another and has too many endings. This has its faults and uses western horror motifs as needed to appear more a mainstream rather than low budget foreign film. The social statement characterizations are much better than formulaic Hollywood scares, and the throwback Hammer feeling, period accents, and gothic mood combine for unique horror and drama.

Skip It

A Haunted House – I’m not a fan of found footage films, so this 2013 horror comedy parody from Marlon Wayans (Scary Movie) mocking the genre seemed like it would be fun. Plain text warnings of recovered recordings, assorted camera angles, and onscreen timestamps open the winks as the new camera and young couple moving in together don’t mix thanks to his dog, her boxes, his arcade games, and her dad’s ashes. Affection, sass, and bemusing stuffed animal foreplay are ruined by hair in curlers, open bathroom doors, and awful farts in the night – making for refreshingly real relationships and humor. No blind spots in the video coverage mean catching the maid up to some saucy, and racist, voyeuristic security camera guys who want your passwords. Fetishizing friends want to swap, the gay psychic wants to know if they’ve had same-sex encounters – all the white people are envious opportunists and that’s nice to see in a genre so often dominated by such caucasity. Sleepwalk dancing and what happens during the night silliness caught on camera escalates with getting high and mocking the usual sheets, smoky imagery, whooshing, and Ouija boards. Our couple jumps to conclusions about the haunting over noises, misplaced keys, doors moving by themselves, and kitchen mishaps, but neither is a catch and a lot of incidents are more about their own faults and problems. They probably shouldn’t be together horror or not, and some of the not addressing their own issues is too on the nose serious or uneven alongside the humor. The misogyny is akin to women often being haunted and not believed in horror, but nothing is scary because the overtly comedic attempts are out of place against the formulaic encounters. There’s an imaginary friend, pervert ghost, demons, a deal with the devil for Louboutins, and the final act is an old hat exorcism meets Poltergeist parody crowded with male ghost rapacious and more unnecessary homophobic jokes. There’s promise in how the camera brings out the voyeur in us all, changing us once we’re in front of it by revealing our true selves or why we’re weary of the lens. A taut eighty minutes with bemusing commentary on the genre’s flaws could have been a watchable, but the dumb and offensive shtick goes on for far too long – becoming the monotonous horror movie it’s trying to send up thanks to a surprising lack of personality.

For More, Visit:

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Family Haunts and Fears

Classic Horror Summer Reading Video

Horror Movie Cliches I’m Tired of Seeing – A Frightening Flix Editorial

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: Held

The footage you are about to see chronicles the harrowing experience that her neighbors endured for hours as she screamed, cried, and shouted expletive obscenities at her television as she watched: Held

Who would like it: Fans of trapped environments, survival, strong female leads, suspense and thrillers.

High Points: My favorite part of this the reason what was happening was happening and the way the final girl got out of it

Complaints: None!

Overall: Love it

Stars: 5

Where I watched it: Screener

 

THE BIGFOOT FILES / Chapter Twenty-Six: ‘Monsters Among Us’

The third and final episode of Hulu’s true-crime documentary Sasquatch brings its mythic metaphor full circle with the conclusion of an investigation into a 1993 triple homicide allegedly committed by Bigfoot.

If you haven’t read my reviews of the first two episodes, here are the links to EPISODE 1 and EPISODE 2.

Investigative journalist David Holthouse

The finale is titled “Monsters Among Us.” Unfortunately, for us Bigfoot enthusiasts, the monsters are not Sasquatches. They’re cannabis farmers in the Northern California region known as the Emerald Triangle.

Episode 3 continues the murder investigation conducted by journalist David Holthouse, who interviews suspicious cannabis farmers and law enforcement officials. Holthouse discovers hopeful leads and frustrating dead ends in his search for the truth.

When one of the more colorful characters named Ghostdance says he recalls a cannabis farmer nicknamed Bigfoot, I begin to see where the trail is leading. And when a law enforcement official confirms it, saying “that sounds like Bigfoot Gary,” I’m like you have to be kidding me.

Holthouse starts to question himself.

“I was thinking back to that night in the cabin in 1993,” Holthouse said. “And did I hear them say a Bigfoot killed those guys, or did I hear them say Bigfoot killed those guys? Because memory’s tricky like that.”

Holthouse focuses on finding Bigfoot Gary. He also ponders the high rate of missing person cases in the Emerald Triangle region.

“You hang out in these dope towns, and all around you are signs about missing people,” Holthouse said. “I mean, just dozens, hundreds of them. And all those missing person fliers are literally signs that there are monsters among us.”

After hitting another dead end with Bigfoot Gary, Holthouse finally tracks down the man who owned the cannabis farm where Holthouse originally had heard the Bigfoot triple-murder story back in 1993.

The farmer explains what happened, and whether you believe him or not is up to you, but the farmer’s tale is the most interesting part of the documentary. Did the story satisfy me? Not really, but it gave Holthouse some closure.

“There is this elusive truth that I glimpsed through the trees,” Holthouse said. “And it’s like the same obsession that drives Squatchers to spend half their lives in the woods. At least I have a story that I tell myself makes sense now.”

For Sasquatch enthusiasts, though, the story continues.

NEXT UP: Chapter Twenty-Seven: Bigfoot in the Bronx. I review the novel by Hunter Shea.

Book Review: Unknowing, I Sink by Timothy G. Huguenin

Julian takes a summer job cleaning the house of Mr. V, a notorious recluse in his small West Virginian town. He soon discovers that the sickly old man is far weirder than the rumors say. Julian tells himself that the money is worth it so he can get a car and impress the girl he likes. But when his crush asks Julian to sneak her in to see the mysterious Mr. V, Julian puts much more than just his job at risk.

Because Unknowing, I Sink is a novella, there’s no room for excess in the plot. The story is tight, keeping the action fast. There is no unnecessary fluff. Still, Huguenin manages to build dread organically, keeping the horror in the back of your mind for most of the book. He does an excellent job of making the reader create their own worry. Something is going to happen, something is right around the corner. The pay off is worth the wait.

Unknowing, I Sink features a small cast of characters, but each are inundated with flavor and personality. Julian just wants to impress the girl he likes. He’s barely spoken to her before, but he’s sure that if he could just get money for a good car, it will be enough to get her attention. Huguenin wrote Julian as a flawless teenage character, annoying enough to be realistic, but not so much that I threw the book across the room (it’s happened before).

Mr. V does more than just hide in shadows. Huguenin imbues him with vibrant personality while still keeping him shrouded in mystery. The unearthly visage created by the many screens and umbilical of electrical cords only foreshadows the true horror.

Huguenin also went the extra mile in filling out his background characters. Stacey—who initially only appears in Julian’s imaginings—comes roaring to life off the page, defying Julian’s expectations and blazing a trail for objectified girls in fiction everywhere.

Huguenin has always expressed a strong desire to write stories imbued with the spirit of West Virginia. From the tone, to the characters, to the town, I feel he succeeds. Setting steps to the forefront throughout Unknowing, I Sink. The house is a character in its own right, with cameras and intercoms that turn it into an extension of Mr. V.

Huguenin has a grounded style of writing that makes the story incredibly accessible. You’re immediately pulled in by the description and character voice.

I consider Unknowing, I Sink one of the most literary horror books that I’ve picked up in the past year. Huguenin takes a subtle hand in guiding the reader through the story, letting tension build organically, before punching them in the gut with the reveal. I hope Unknowing, I Sink is in consideration for a Stoker Award next year. It would be well deserved.

If you’re looking for creeping horror with a satisfying twist and excellent writing, pick up Unknowing, I Sink. Also check out Huguenin’s other books.

Timothy G. Hugunin was a contestant in the Next Great Horror Writer Contest here at HorrorAddicts.net. Check out this interview with him!

Merrill’s Musical Musings: Dissonance

Greetings HorrorAddicts. This month we’re listening to the Dark Wave artist Dissonance. Cat Hall has a new maxi-single that’s perfect for fans of bands like GARBAGE, NINE INCH NAILS & INFORMATION SOCIETY. Precipice is a techno-moody piece that is very personal to Hall. Music helps us heal from the tragedies in our lives, and for Hall, it’s been a form of catharsis. After a serious health battle, she’s come out on the other side to share her emotional experience in these three pieces. With remixes by Joe Haze, Diverje, Junior Kain, and Machines with Human Skin all add layers to the composition. Reminiscent of Tubular Bells or early Depeche Mode, Precipice is music to sit with and contemplate. Each element woven together, whether it be effects or harmonies, all evoke feelings of loss and yet are ultimately hopeful. 

Thank you for joining me this month. I hope you and yours are well. I’d love to hear what kind of music is getting you through this tumultuous time. If you want to hear what I’ve been listening to, you can check out my #SpotifyWrapped. If you’re not on Spotify yet, you might want to change that in 2021. Getting a report on your listening habits can be…creepy, but also a great trip down memory lane. Stay Tuned for more Ro’s Recs and Merrill’s Musical Musings… 

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R.L. Merrill writes inclusive romance with quirky, relatable characters full of love, hope, and rock ‘n’ roll. You can find her at https://www.rlmerrillauthor.com and on the socials as @rlmerrillauthor. You can also find her at www.queeromanceink.com writing about Hope, Love and Queeromance. 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Kindred the Embraced

What Could Have Been with Kindred: The Embraced

by Kristin Battestella

Based partly on the Vampire: The Masquerade role playing game, Fox’s 1996 Kindred: The Embraced is an eight episode miniseries cut short despite enticing vampires and gothic atmosphere. Ventrue vampire Julian Luna (Mark Frankel) is prince of San Francisco and ruler of the Kindred clans – a precarious alliance between Lillie Langtry (Stacy Haiduk) a Toreador nightclub patron, underground Nosferatu Daedalus (Jeff Kober), and Brujah mobster Eddie Fiori (Brian Thompson). Their masquerade to live among humans is threatened by detective Frank Kohanek (C.Thomas Howell) and reporter Caitlin Byrne (Kelly Rutherford) – who falls for Julian, further complicating the interconnected love triangles and vampire peace.

Rooftop chases at dawn open the hour-plus premiere “The Original Saga” alongside quick detective exposition and gunshots intercut with ledge leaping culprits, stakings, and victims set on fire in the sunlight. It’s a very nineties, busy start crowded with back and forth cop and vampire perspectives. The charred body is enough to start the investigation without the cheap action, and you need a flow chart to figure out who everyone is thanks to the world building and clan intrigue dropped in the dialogue – who belongs to the Gangrel gangs or Brujah mobsters, who are moving in on another Kindred’s territory, which ones abide by the masquerade rules to hide from humans, which clans are loyal to whom. Fortunately, the steamy vampire dinner date with steak very, very rare leads to one drop of blood on the white dress, sneaky scalpels, morgue drawers, and chilling kills. One-on-one conversations and hypnosis add to the tasty and sensuous, invoking the gothic atmosphere amid graveside vigils, moody mirrors, and shaving mishap temptations. In its early hours, however, Kindred: The Embraced is dominated by guests of the week and newly embraced vampires when the main Phantom of the Opera forbidden romance in the third episode “Nightstalker” is a much nicer bittersweet. Uneven A/B plotting and sagging police arguments hamper the superior Kindred stories as vampire killers are held for psychiatric evaluation. There’s a fine line between schizophrenia, blood lust, enchantments, and predators. Saucy shadows reveal our Kindred ills and charms as precarious clan war talk escalates to action halfway through the series – finally turning Kindred: The Embraced where it needs to go with guns drawn, vampire standoffs, and mob strong arming that should have come much sooner than the sixth episode, “The Rise and Fall of Eddie Fiori.” The Kindred front at the Dock Workers Union seems pedestrian and this arc was made to wait as if it were less important than the police plots, but clan peace is bringing down the business for Brian Thompson’s (Cobra) Brujah leader Eddie Fiori. The Brujah clan prefers carnage to reason, and Eddie sets up crimes only to act like the Kindred would be safer if he were in charge. Shapeshifting killers, head choppings, decoys, stabbings, and assassination attempts caught on camera provide enough gothic horror without resorting to more of that intrusive cop drama. A vampire using a private investigator is unnecessary in a blood feud, but it’s superb when the rival ladies get to sit face to face as the Kindred point fingers over who has blackmail photos or is sleeping with a journalist. Council meetings and swords resolve any broken vampire rules – damage the peace and you will pay.

Ironically, the wire tapes, moles, and crazy cops in the second episode of Kindred: The Embraced “Prince of the City” contradicts the pilot movie. You wouldn’t know this show was about vampires as enemies suddenly become friends over a cup of coffee and traitors are discovered or forgotten from one scene to the next. It’s a terrible entry and probably deterred a lot of viewers from continuing with the series week to week. “Live Hard, Die Young, and Leave a Good Looking Corpse” is also a great title, but an anonymous, obnoxious Kindred is embracing groupies and leaving them in the streets, again wasting time when the regular players have so little. Kindred: The Embraced could have opened with a newly turned against her will vampire learning the ropes point of view, but debates that could delve further into such assault parallels somehow end up boring and repetitive here. Police dismissing the monster stole my baby claims in the second to last hour “Bad Moon Rising” are unnecessary, too, as evil and ugly Nosferatu vampires abducting babies for blood sacrifices and Druid rituals are terrifying enough. Our vampires fear this banished Kindred wishing to return the clans to a more primitive sewer dwelling state no masquerade needed. Why demand vampires wear suits and drink blood in wine glasses when they can take it all? Kindred explaining their own rules to a sneering cop every single hour gets old fast compared to female Nosferatu, Carmilla references, chains, and ceremonial blades. “I only drink red” quips and garlic braids in the kitchen winks add to the Kindred: The Embraced mythos – some vampires can feed and go out in the sun while others gain more powers under the full moon. Direct questions about who’s making love or poisoning whom lead to tender moments among humans and vampires waxing on whether it’s them or us who are the real monsters. Suave Kindred fang out for both moonlit showdowns and juicy fireside passion as rivals try to exploit the clan war opportunities while the prince is away at the vineyard in “Cabin in the Woods.” Angry Brujah are determined to put bodies in the empty family cemetery plots while hooting owls, creepy forests, and eerie fog accent fiery flashbacks, attacks in the woods, white wolves, and Kindred truths too fantastic to believe. Past betrayals coming to light and vendettas are revealed, but only the precious healing blood can save the sacrifices and sad choices. Here at its end is where Kindred: The Embraced finds how it should have always been.

Of course, the series should have never strayed from it’s true and unfortunately gone too soon star Mark Frankel (Leon the Pig Farmer) and his Kindred prince Julian Luna. He keeps a tenuous peace between the clans, but Julian’s conflicted about being their judge, jury, and executioner. Despite his slick widow’s peak and cool control, it’s easy to see what gets to him, as Julian continually protects humans and associates with the descendants of his family from before he was embraced. He makes others toe the line about the masquerade yet Julian is sentimental himself, often going with banishment or failed punishments that force more finite, deadly resolutions. Although everyone tells him otherwise, Julian thinks we all can coexist, and he actually might not be that great a leader if his rivals can push his buttons with personal vendettas in hopes of inciting a full out clan war. Fortunately, Julian is nothing if not shrewd. He commands loyalty and respect, orchestrating ploys against his enemies that leave them out in the sunlight and begging to get into his trunk. No matter the pain or peril to himself, Julian does what he has to do to keep the peace above all else. He admits he was a violent henchman in the past, but his loves and human attachments make Julian want to be a better man. Journalist Kelly Rutherford (Melrose Place, but with whom I always confuse Ally Walker from Profiler, and also with Amanda Wyss briefly on Highlander: The Series. Nineties genre blondes, man!) is writing an article about Julian being a mysterious and powerful businessman, but he never gives interviews. He buys the newspaper and makes Caitlin editor, but she doesn’t sit behind the desk, seeking out the hot cases herself and dismissing the spooky connections that lead back to Julian. Caitlin struggles to listen to her conscience when he’s around, foolishly more curious despite how little she knows. The relationship is stagnant at times, never really advancing until the finale, but the chemistry forgives the blinded by love stupidity as truths and tearful revelations make for well done human versus vampire emotions. Stacy Haiduk (SeaQuest DSV) as Toreador leader and Haven club owner Lillie makes loose alliances as needed, using her allure for power, jealousy, and to support the arts. Her club is a sanctuary and Lillie saves a young musician with her embrace, but rock stars aren’t super discreet. She protects the wrong vampires and Julian insists they are no longer lovers but she makes her presence known by spying on Caitlin when not biting, flirting, and having her dalliances, too. Ultimately, Lillie still loves Julian and dislikes when he lies, expecting the truth after what they’ve been through together. This is a complex character – Lillie will stab a person in the back and do it with a smile and we don’t blame her. She deserved more time and Haiduk’s eyes are fittingly enchanting I must say.

Detective C. Thomas Howell (The Outsiders) is top billed on Kindred: The Embraced, but Frank Kohanek is a terribly over the top eighties does forties cum nineties, generic copper. The edgy delivery and angry scene chewing jars with everything else, and point blank the series would have been better without him. Frank starts so full of hate and thinks all vampires are monsters even as he is helped and protected by Kindred, but turns a vampire killer over to Julian because his law can’t handle them. His entire police element is unnecessary since the Ventrue already has Erik King (Dexter) as their inside cop Sonny, but he isn’t featured half as much. Sonny’s reveals happen way too soon, leaving him to ride shotgun with Frank as the stereotypical Black cop partner, and Kate Vernon’s (Falcon Crest) seductive Alexandra also has her melodrama cut short when Kindred: The Embraced sets up her supposedly great romance with Frank but then tears it apart in one episode. Channon Roe (Bio-Dome) as perpetually scowling Gangrel biker Cash doesn’t think being embraced is all it’s cracked up to be, and he’s actually not that good of a bodyguard because he’s always making moon eyes with leather jacket bad girl Brigid Walsh (Army Wives) as Sasha. Although the motorcycle double entendres are cliché, Julian doesn’t want his last human descendant to be embraced, forbidding the romance between Sasha and Cash. She doesn’t believe the hear tell monstrous, but Sasha is quickly caught between the love of one clan and the hate of another. We know what to expect from an episode named “Romeo and Juliet,” but the secret rendezvous, gang killings, and family payback does what it says on the tin in fitting vampire style and shows what Kindred: The Embraced can do. Jeff Kober (China Beach) is immediately excellent as the Nosferatu leader Daedalus, decrepit and living underground but suave in a smoking jacket as he does Julian’s dirty work. Daedalus loyally does the series’ scary with a calm and quiet chill but falls in love with a beautiful singer. The “Nightstalker” hour should have been devoted to him, and we notice his absence in weaker episodes. Kober isn’t made up to be that much of an ogre, but Daedalus is ashamed of his own clan and dabbles in alchemy to enchant and change his appearance, for who would love him? He disposes of a nasty vampire doctor for hurting children and befriends an ill boy who asks if he is a monster. Daedalus wants to embrace him, but it is of course against the rules. It’s another fascinating dilemma that deserved more time on Kindred: The Embraced but c’est la vie.

Although there are no subtitles on the two-disc DVD edition of Kindred: The Embrace and the full-screen picture is flat; unlike today’s overly saturated digital grading, the nighttime scenes aren’t uber dark thanks to practical lighting and ambiance. Some shaky cam zooms and herky-jerky handheld aren’t so smooth now, but contrived police action is brief and choice dolly zoom horrors and great vampire eyes forgive poor fire effects. Picturesque Golden Gate Bridge scenery and San Francisco skylines at dusk contrast charred bodies, morgue toe tags, lunar motifs, and wolf overlays. Lavish wallpapers, draperies, artwork, water fountains, and grand staircases make up for that then luxurious nineties pink marble while creepy underground lairs, candelabras, and scary paintings create an edgy industrial. Red silk, purple satin, crushed velvet, and suave men’s suits provide allure; women’s fashions are both nineties runway sheer and flowing old fashioned with tantalizing slips and camisoles rather than then taboo nudity. Beheadings, skulls in the incinerator, heartbeats, and flexing jugulars provide chills while brooding nineties music invokes a sexy, classy simmer. Stained glass ruins, graves, greenery, and roses create a sensuous, romantic melancholy as Kindred: The Embraced remains a fine mix of modern debonair and gothic mood. That beeper though, with the fake giant screen and super easy to read analog text…lol. With eight different writers and six different directors, obviously, no one thought of having one cohesive narrative back then. Maybe twenty-five years ago cross-medium interactive content was unfathomable, but today such a franchise with books, games, official social media, and RPGs would be massive. Kindred: The Embraced was caught in the middle – a series that didn’t stand on its own but nor did it satisfy the built-in audience of Vampire: The Masquerade. Having gaming source material may have even contributed to viewer confusion as Fox shuffled the airings around and potentially out-of-order episodes seemed lacking in information. Of course, had Kindred: The Embraced stuck to its roots instead of wasting time with nineties cop show intrusions, the vampire love triangles, and intriguing clan wars wouldn’t have been so crowded. Revelations that could take several seasons happen in the first hour, and it’s tough not to shout at the what-ifs and ponder what Kindred: The Embraced could have been. Fortunately, Kindred: The Embrace is easy to marathon, remaining entertaining as a fun introductory piece for younger horror lite audiences as well as vampire fans and nostalgic viewers looking for gothic panache.

Want More Vampires and Gothic Romance?

Dracula (2020)

Gothic Romance Video Review

Mexican and Spanish Vampires

Dark Shadows Video Review

 

THE BIGFOOT FILES/Chapter Twenty-Five: ‘Spy Rock’

“Spy Rock,” the Episode 2 title of Hulu’s true-crime documentary Sasquatch, takes you deeper into the dangerous cannabis farming region of Northern California called the Emerald Triangle and further away from Bigfoot’s involvement in a triple homicide.

If you haven’t read my review of Episode 1, you can check it out HERE.

Episode 2 opens with an interesting interview featuring Bob Heironimus. He claims he wore the Bigfoot suit for the famous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film in exchange for “a thousand bucks.” He offers a detailed description of the experience. Bob Gimlin counters the claim, but Heironimus says, “Have him look at my right hip. I had my jeans on. It was my wallet. He knows it was me.”

And that’s it as far as Sasquatch goes.

The documentary returns to David Holthouse, the journalist investigating a 1993 triple murder allegedly committed by Bigfoot. Picking up where Episode 1 left off, “Spy Rock” focuses more on the violent history of the Emerald Triangle region.

After a fruitful interview with a cannabis farmer named Razor, Holthouse learns the three murder victims are Mexicans and the scene of the crime is near Spy Rock Road. Media coverage of the region shows past coverage of stabbings, shootings, and murders.

The narrative then shifts to the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), a multi-agency law enforcement task force formed in 1983 to eradicate cannabis cultivation and trafficking. The campaign wiped out cannabis farms, increasing the costs of marijuana and heightening paranoia in the region. The cannabis farmers who remained started protecting their crops with firearms and booby traps. In the 1990s, the violence escalated, and harder drugs increased in popularity.

Holthouse sets up a meeting with a cannabis farmer and uses a hidden camera during a tense drive into the forest. During the meeting, he learns about the tension between whites and the Latinos who were often hired as laborers.

Holthouse briefly addresses his own past demons, including when he was sexually assaulted at age seven. He said the incident left him with a diminished sense of self-worth, enabling him to take risks without much fear. However, Holthouse appears nervous as he gets closer to the truth.

Another meeting with a different confidential source surprisingly reveals the name of the prime murder suspect, a man who worked on a farm affiliated with the Hells Angels motorcycle gang. However, Holthouse decides against releasing the suspect’s name out of fear for his personal safety. Even the intimidating Razor is afraid to discuss the suspect.

Holthouse manages to acquire the suspect’s phone number and makes the call. The episode ends with the suspect answering the phone.

NEXT UP: Chapter Twenty-Six: Sasquatch. I review the final episode of the 2021 Hulu series.

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: Koko-di Koko-da

 

 

Plotline: A case of food poisoning derails a family’s holiday and forever alters the course of their lives. Years later, the couple go camping again, looking for one last chance to go back to the way things used to be. But what once was is lost, and they instead find themselves having to relive the same nightmarish events, as that day and the horrors it brings repeat themselves infinitely. Together, they must overcome their trauma, reconcile with the past and fight for their lives — over and over again.

Who would like it: Fans of camping horror, cosmic horror, WTF, international films, myths and fairytales

High Points: I really love how told in two different media’s

Complaints: None

Overall: I really enjoyed this super creepy little movie!

Stars: 3 1/2

Where I watched it: Sling

 

 

Daphne’s Den of Darkness: 5 Insect Horror Novels

I don’t like bugs. Cockroaches, spiders, centipedes… if it’s creepy or crawly, I’m sure to stay far away. But a Horror Addict asked me to create a list of good horror books involving insects. So, from spine-tingling terror to science fiction frights to the absolutely bonkers, here are my top five suggestions for horror that will make you bug out.

Eight by W.W. Mortensen

When entomologist Rebecca Riley receives stunning photographs of a new discovery, she finds herself on the next flight to Brazil, heading down to join the team of scientists assembling there.

What she uncovers is beyond imagination: strange statues in the jungle… a ruined city built by the refugees of a lost Pacific continent… and a terrifying new species. It is an ancient enemy, one whose very existence has implications for all of humankind… and the planet itself.

Prey by Michael Crichton

In the Nevada desert, an experiment has gone horribly wrong. A cloud of nanoparticles—micro-robots—has escaped from the laboratory. This cloud is self-sustaining and self-reproducing. It is intelligent and learns from experience. For all practical purposes, it is alive.

It has been programmed as a predator. It is evolving swiftly, becoming more deadly with each passing hour.

And we are the prey.

Slither by Edward Lee

When Nora and her research team arrived on the deserted tropical island, she was expecting a routine zoological expedition, but it didn’t take long to realize they’re not alone. Now members of her own team are disappearing, and when they return, they’ve changed.

Sparrow Rock by Nate Kenyon

Six high school students have survived nuclear war in a high-tech bomb shelter, but they are not alone. Mutated insects are hungry and the human survivors are the only prey.

Texas Chainsaw Mantis by Kevin Strange

After wiping out humanity years ago, Praying Mantises have evolved into the dominant species on Earth, taking over our buildings, our jobs, and our lives.

Matthew is a high school history teacher. He does his best to educate the young mantises and tame the savage side of their nature, until the day he comes home to find his wife ready to mate. Anyone who knows anything about Mantises knows that mating is a death sentence for males of the species. But when Matthew’s wife partially decapitates him during sex, he crawls out to the woodshed to die, only to find an old haunted chainsaw, possessed by the spirit of his home’s dead human owner, who just happens to be an occult sorcerer and serial killer known as The Growler’s Phantom. Now resurrected, Matthew vows revenge on his murderous wife, and her new husband Nicko as well as anyone else who gets in his path.

There you have it! Five books to make your skin crawl. Do you know any horror books that feature insects? Want to see another list of recommendations? Leave a comment!

Movie Feature #193: Black Butler, Live-Action Film

blackbutler

Before I get to talking about the live-action version of Black Butler, we should talk about where the story originated. First, a manga series written and illustrated by Yana Toboso, Black Butler (or Kuroshitsuji) was serialized starting in 2006 in a shonen magazine called Square Enix’ (the company behind Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Kingdom Hearts).  Then, in 2008, a 24-episode anime adaption aired in Japan produced by A-1 Pictures. In 2009, the series was brought to North America by Yen Press and the anime was licensed by Funimation.

The plot involves a very popular gothic manga theme of taking place in Victorian-era London, with a young gentleman acting as a sort of mini-Holmes investigator. Earl Phantomville is the head (and only surviving member) of his family but also acts as one of the queen’s watchdogs, tasked with investigating cases especially important to the crown. Through an elaborate plot, he becomes beholden to a demon he named Sebastian. The demon vows to be his servant and protector to help avenge his family’s death in exchange for being able to consume his soul as payment when he dies.

Changes made to the characters in the live-action are mostly just the main character’s name. Instead of Ciel Phantomhive, they gave him a Japanese name, Shiori Genpou. Otherwise, the characters follow the manga pretty closely. The name change is explained in the movie as a way to cover the true identity of Ciel.

And now on to the live-action movie, released in 2014 and starring Hiro Mizushima as Sebastian and Ayane Goriki as Shiori. You can watch it with subtitles below free on YouTube. If you want the English dubbed version, you will need to rent or buy it.

The movie opens with a rainy cityscape and a lone car crossing a bridge. When the car stops, the man inside writhes in pain as he seems he is melting from the inside.

Only then do we meet Shiori, our hero, being beaten and held captive by a gang. Sebastian arrives and at first, the gang members think he’s just a properly dressed butler that has come to get his master, armed only with a butter knife. They soon realize he is much more than that as he dispatches all of them (and their guns) with hand-to-hand combat. This first scene with Sebastian proves that he is more than a butler. A fighting expert for sure, but is there something more? When they ask who he is, he replies with my favorite line from the series…

“Who am I? I’m simply one Hell of a butler.”

Unlike the manga, which is a series of investigations mostly for the crown, the live-action movie revolves around the main storyline of Shiori finding out how and why his family was killed and who is responsible. He also discovers the secret behind the melting people and a mysterious capsule that causes the effect.

Being a major Black Butler fan, I could not wait to gobble up the live-action movie as soon as it arrived. I was not disappointed. While some live-action movies destroy or play farce to the manga, comics, or books they are derived from, this film adaptation kept everything lovely about BB intact. 

With a blend of dark comedy, mystery, and that little bit of chibi-esque slapstick, this film illustrates a story that is as close to the feeling of reading the manga as possible. With costumes and sets, they even did a fair job of translating the art style of the gothic lolita manga art. Although this story leans heavily into the action genre, the demon being and his connection to the mortal is true horror magic.

Highlights of this series are: 

*The worthless household staff of the Earl, which Sebastian has to constantly save including a bumbling elder butler and a clumsy gothic lolita maid.

*Sebastian’s dark personality which at once makes you wonder, does he really want to consume the Earl or has he fallen in love with him?

*The constant gender-bending feel. Is the Earl a boy? Or a girl? And could Sebastian be his love interest?

*The cool eye on the Earl that matches Sebastian’s tattoo. This signifies Sebastian’s claim on his soul.

*The underlying feeling of dread as if the Earl may die at any moment.  

*The language used by Sebastian and even the Earl at times, hinting at a more sinister plot than any of the humans are aware of.

The casting choices in this film were also very well done and I absolutely love Sebastian’s voice-over actor who I believe is the same as the anime voice, J. Michael Tatum. The translation was done very well and I can’t imagine anyone who is a fan of Black Butler not enjoying this flick.

Black Butler mangas are still for sale on various book sites, they even have Kindle and ComiXology copies. You can enjoy the anime series both dubbed or subtitled on Netflix, and this live-action film is for sale at Amazon.com.

Odds and Dead Ends : Secret Doorways in Takashi Miike’s ‘Audition’

Usually when I write articles analysing films I have a fair idea that what I’m writing about has a chance of being somewhere close to the mark. With this one, I’m putting forth a personal interpretation of something which struck me when I made the sensible (read: stupid, because it disturbed me once more) decision to re-watch Takashi Miike’s infamous 1999 shocker, Audition.

            As always, I will be discussing bits of plot detail. So, you know, SPOILER WARNING.

            For anyone who hasn’t seen the film, or watched it in a while, here’s a brief overview. Aoyama, who works for a film company, finds himself looking for a new companion after his son suggests he re-marries, his wife having passed some time ago. To this end, he and his colleague set up a series of auditions for a film that will never get made, to find Aoyama the perfect girlfriend. He falls quickly for Asami Yamazaki, a quiet yet beautiful young woman, who hides dark secrets behind her naive exterior.

            When I was re-watching it, taking notes sometimes as I do, I found myself struck by the constant use of doorways and doorframes. Often, the action would take place in one room but the camera would be placed in another room entirely, looking in. On occasion, the action, a speaking character, for instance, would move behind the walls so that we can’t see them. This framing occurring throughout the film, and it’s the sort of setup which doesn’t just happen; you have to make the conscious decision that you’re going to block a scene in this way.

            The cynical viewer would suggest that it’s just Miike’s style to have lots of static shots where the action just plays out. This happens in many of his films, and considering his prolific output, one could argue that it means he doesn’t have to set up large bits of equipment for big camera moves and so can just film more. The film was made in three weeks (and apparently this was a week longer than Miike usually made a film in), so it might be a definite factor in the shot choices. He’s used to very little time to get the footage, so he makes sure it’s filmed in a way to require minimal changes between shots, for maximum efficiency in the schedule.

            And yet Miike also has the camera moves down when he needs to (there’s a very specific, disorienting flip in a bed about halfway through the film which demonstrates this), suggesting that everything is thought through. So it doesn’t hold completely that it’s just for efficient shooting schedules. No, there’s definitely a specific, storytelling reason for this consistent framing.

            Considering much of the story is based on the theme of dark secrets, and of things hidden coming to light, I’d like to argue here that the repeated doorway framing suggests something about this theme. By showing the walls of the room the camera is situated in, we are shown a frame within a frame. This could suggest something a larger whole, a secret within an exterior facade. We also must consider the idea of doorways as a portal. The world around us changes when we move from one room to another; we end up in a different place, a different world. It seems consistent with this symbolism that there is therefore a suggestion of two different worlds, that of secrets inside the doorway and an outside appearance, and we are being allowed to look into this other, hidden reality that the characters hide from the apparent truthful world.

            Several examples suggest themselves to support this. At the beginning of the film, Aoyama and his son are eating dinner in a dining room, framed by the doorway, as they discuss that Aoyama should look to re-marry. The secret he keeps of misleading someone to have an excuse to gain their affections begins here with this conversation. In a different, pivotal scene, which hints at Asami’s darkness, she waits with her hair down for the phone to ring. A large, tied up sack suddenly rocks violently behind her. Our understanding of this character, and that she hides darker secrets, is changed completely by this moment, so much so that Miike goes on to break several filmmaking conventions (including the traditional 180-degree rule, which keeps characters in a conversation on the same sides of the frame for ease of understanding) to emphasize this now unstable relationship between the audience and Asami’s outwardly unassuming persona. This pivotal shot is, once again, shot through a doorway. Inside the doorway, secrets are seen.

            There are many more such instances of this doorway framing in the film. Asami is seen standing on a balcony outside at their holiday cabin, dressed all in innocent white, whilst standing through a doorway. From our renewed understanding of her, the purity of her colour combined with the doorway’s suggestion of secrecy and falsity implies that this shining white innocence may not be what it appears. Near the end of the film, Aoyama succumbs to drugged whisky whilst standing on the threshold between two rooms in his house, and the camera is angled in such a way so that his fall happens almost completely within the doorframe.

            And then in the final moments of the film, Asami and Aoyama are both on the floor, wounded and dying, looking at each other through an open doorway. Here the frame connects them because now their secrets have all been spilled, and they watch one another on either side of this world. This is the first time that they see each other’s secrets, exposed and open to each other completely for the first time in the film. There is nowhere to hide anymore, and indeed they have nothing left to hide. Both of them, like the camera, can see into the dark interiors of their lives.

            Until Miike comes out and says that it was indeed intentional to express this theme, we have no way of knowing. But this use of doorways, and our looking through them into a scene beyond, is incredibly common throughout the film and is almost certainly deliberate. It might also be that Miike did this to suggest a distance, a loneliness, in the characters; he often uses long shots in the film to make characters isolated and alone, so to use these doorframes for similar emotional reasons, if not thematic, isn’t too far-fetched. In either case, it’s certainly an additional dynamic which helps raise Audition to something which is far more sophisticated than we might have given it credit for in the past.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: kjudgemental

THE BIGFOOT FILES/Chapter Twenty-Four: ‘Grabbing at Smoke’

Hulu’s true-crime documentary, Sasquatch, begins its three-episode arc with a story “about a Sasquatch wasting three dudes in dope country.”

The series title feels like a bait-and-switch because it invokes the creature’s name to empower a metaphor rather than expose the mythic monster.

Titled “Grabbing at Smoke,” the first episode follows investigative journalist David Holthouse on a wild goose chase through his memory and the dangerous cannabis farming region of Northern California called the Emerald Triangle.

In the fall of 1993, Holthouse worked on a cannabis farm with a friend. The second night there, his friend received an intense phone call before two men arrived saying that a Bigfoot dismembered and killed three other men.

Twenty-five years later, Holthouse decides to return to the scene and investigate the triple murder.

Holthouse is a credible and compelling subject, and director Joshua Rofé effectively blends in creepy animation and an eerie soundtrack to create an atmosphere of anxiety and paranoia.

The first episode finds Holthouse at the start of his investigation and provides an interesting lesson on the dark history of the Emerald Triangle, including Native American massacres and the timber industry’s wanton destruction of ancient redwood trees.

However, the arrival of the hippies and back-to-the-landers in the 1970s fuels thriving cannabis farms off the grid and sets the stage for murder and mayhem in the shadows of the dense forest.

Back to the investigation, Holthouse fails to find any links to the 1993 Bigfoot murder story and hires a private investigator, hoping his connections will locate a lead.

The episode sprinkles in interviews with Bigfoot hunters and witnesses, including James “Bobo” Fay of Finding Bigfoot and Jeff Meldrum, a professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State University.

“I’m convinced Sasquatch exists,” said Meldrum, who estimates 300 Bigfoot live in Idaho. “It’s the evidence that convinces me.”

The most interesting interview is Bob Gimlin, the gentleman forever associated with the famous Patterson-Gimlin film of 1967.

The documentary shifts back to the investigation when Holthouse’s private eye provides an intriguing lead.

A cannabis farmer named Razor recalls a similar story about three Mexican nationals killed around the Spy Rock Road area in 1993.

The episode ends with Holthouse planning to meet the mysterious Razor in person followed by a texted warning from the suddenly skittish private investigator.

“You. Please be careful.”

NEXT UP: Chapter Twenty-Five: Sasquatch. I review Episode 2 of the 2021 Hulu series. 

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: In The Earth

 

 

Plotline: As the world searches for a cure to a devastating virus, a scientist and a park scout venture deep into the woods. As night falls, their journey becomes a terrifying voyage through the heart of darkness as the forest comes to life around them.

Who would like it: Fan of mythologies, folklore, monsters, slow burns and slasher films will love this movie!

High Points: I like the concept of using science to try to communicate with nature

Complaints:

Overall: I really liked this film, it’s the kind of movie that you’ll see something different every time you watch it

Stars: 4 1/2

Where I watched it: Screener

 

Daphne’s Den of Darkness: 5 Horror Novels Without All the Gore

We received a special request here at HorrorAddicts.net. A listener asked for suggestions for “PG-13 Horror Novels”. Specifically, they wanted books that don’t feature a lot of gore. There’s nothing wrong with liking gore, but you don’t need it to make a horror novel worth reading. Since it’s not fun to sift through reviews to find the right book, I’ve done it for you!

Her Dark Inheritance by Meg Hafdahl

Do I take every opportunity to recommend Her Dark Inheritance? Yes, yes, I do. Why? Because it’s still one of the best horror books I’ve ever read.

On the day her mother died, Daphne Forrest learned the devastating truth. She’d never really known the woman who raised her, not even her real name. Fueled to unravel the tragic mystery behind her mother’s secrets, Daphne abandons all she knows, traveling to the bucolic yet sinister town of Willoughby, Minnesota.

Navigating through the memories of her own bloody legacy, Daphne throws herself into the insular and haunting small town of her ancestors. She investigates the murder that led to her mother’s shame, with the help of charming, yet tortured, local Edwin Monroe. Edwin has a unique understanding of the darkness in Willoughby, and how the town holds a lurking threat more foreboding than any unsolved murder.

As Daphne gets closer to the truth, Willoughby itself rebels against her. She bears witness to terrifying scenes from the past. Is her mother a murderer? Is this Daphne’s dark inheritance? Is she strong enough to battle an evil more frightening than her own past?

Aleister Blake by Valentina Cano

Nora Smith may be the best rat-catcher, pickpocket, and liar in gas-lit London, but her skills can’t help save her brother when he is killed in a fight. That’s when Aleister Blake appears, a man who offers to reclaim her sibling from death. For a price.

At Aleister’s bidding, Nora leaves her life in the streets and moves into his house, one brimming with secrets. There are servants she only sees from the corner of her eyes and an entire second story she can’t access. When Aleister challenges her to help him find what he values most in the world in exchange for keeping her brother alive, she must use all of her talents to follow the only hint he has given her: the ship christened Pandemonium. With the enigmatic Aleister at her heels, Nora chases Pandemonium’s trail right into London’s underbelly, where blackmailers and smugglers thrive. Right to the truth that will force her to finally confront who she is and what it really means to make bargains with the Devil.

A House by the Sea by Ambrose Ibsen

Something has always lived in Winthrop House…

After his book becomes a best-seller, novelist Jack Ripley moves into a house on the edge of Cutler Harbor with his wife and two daughters. Nearly a century old, Winthrop House is newly-restored and boasts a gorgeous oceanfront view.

But everything is not what it seems.

Though picturesque, Jack learns that the house has been shunned for decades by the locals, owing to a number of mysterious disappearances and inexplicable deaths on the grounds.

The Ripleys begin to grapple with the property’s vile reputation, learning more about its sordid history and experiencing strange things within its walls. What was once a dream home quickly becomes a nightmare for the family as they encounter the terrifying presence that has existed there since times immemorial.

The Occultists by Polly Schattel

Sssshhhhhhhh… For Edwardian-era spiritualists and illusionists, silence is more than a strategy; it’s a way of life. And when Max Grahame, a bullied small-town teen, discovers a secretive world of occultism and séances right under his nose, he can hardly contain his excitement.

But as Max begins his conjurer’s lessons in earnest, his newfound knowledge exposes the group’s dark and deeply sinister designs, leading to a game of supernatural cat and mouse that takes him from the ancient hills of rural Georgia and the mystic plains of the Midwest to fin-de-siècle Manhattan… and beyond.

The Shining by Stephen King

Okay, I feel like I have to put a Stephen King novel on this list. I mean, it’s the touchstone for horror fans, right? But where do you start when some of King’s books (looking at you The Stand) are very, very gory. Not this one! The Shining is an absolute classic and if you’ve only ever seen the movie, you are missing out. Very few books give me chills, but this one did.

Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote…and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.

Do you have requests for lists you’d like to see in the future? Let us know at horroraddicts@gmail.com or on Twitter @horroraddicts13.

Book Review : Clockwork Wonderland

Clockwork Wonderland Review by Ariel Da Wintre

I really enjoyed this Anthology. The book consisted of 14 stories and a poem. It has something
for everyone; scary, intriguing and creative. All the stories have the theme of clocks and Alice in
Wonderland characters. The writers added new characters, taking the classic story and
giving it a horror element. I think this works really well as parts of the original story could be
considered scary all on their own. I found the stories very original and some I didn’t
want to end.

The book starts with a poem by Emerian Rich, “Hatter’s Warning”, and it reminded me of the poems in the original Alice in Wonderland.

The first story is, “Jabberclocky”, by Jonathan Fortin. This story is about a boy named Henry and his unexpected visitor,  the Hatter. I really liked this and I was completely drawn into Henry’s story and the scary Jabberclocky. I loved the end but I didn’t want it to end.

I am still tripped out by the very scary, “Hands of Time” by Stephanie Ellis. It is about an apprentice named Rab who meets an executioner and the timekeeper. I don’t want to give anything away but if you like a bloody good time this is the story for you.

Next, “Clockwork Justice”, by Trinity Adler, is another thrilling story. Alice finds herself in Wonderland and accused of murder. Who did she murder? I won’t say but will she keep her head? Will she solve the crime? All my favorite characters are part of the story Mad Hatter, Cheshire cat and more.

The story, “My Clockwork Valentine”, by Sumiko Saulson is about a girl named Blanche and what happens to her. I loved the imagery in this story and the concept of time. You will get swept away by the story and hope our heroine survives.

“Blood Will Have Blood” by James Pyne, starts with the main character, Alicia, getting pulled into Wonderland and being told she is the new Alice. I think you can see where this is going. I found this story creative and different and it is about a blood clock. It is pretty scary I don’t want to be part of that Wonderland.

I loved “Midnight Dance” by Emerian Rich. This story follows the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. It has a very different twist but with characters we all know and love from the book and Zombies!

The next story, “A Room for Alice” by Ezra Barany, is a scary story that follows Alice as she wakes up in a scary place and meets Tweedle D. I enjoyed this story it had lots of plots and twists and left me thinking for some time afterward. It had a lot of creepy elements and I found it very descriptive.

“Frayed Ears” by H.E. Roulo is a story I loved. It has a Rabbit going through many childhood fairy tales. I couldn’t wait to see who would show up next to help the White Rabbit and will he make it on time and who is causing this to happen.

The next story is “King of Hearts,” by Dustin Coffman. This story had a great twist, a guy goes down the rabbit hole instead of Alice. Lenny is checking the closet for his daughter who hears a strange noise and finds himself in Wonderland. He meets the White Rabbit and other characters. Watch out for the Queen of Hearts!

“Riddle”, by N. McGuire, is about a young lady named Alice. She follows the white rabbit on a train and she is drawn into a very strange situation with different Wonderland characters.  Will she solve the riddle?

The next story is, “Tick Tock”, by Jaap Boekestein. This story has all the characters you love but they are not the way you remember them. Wonderland is at war and you don’t know who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. This story will keep you intrigued.

The story, “Gone A’ Hunting,” by Laurel Anne Hill, follows a young lady named Alease who is chasing the White Rabbit for dinner. She gets more than she’s bargaining for and needs to escape. Will the White Rabbit help her after she was just trying to kill him? Great story, scary to the end.

I really liked “The Note”, by Jeremy Megargee. It had a great concept. Wonderland is not the same and the character telling the story seems so lost and sad. The story has a lot of suspense. I enjoyed the whole vision of this scary wonderland.

The next story is “Half Past”, by K.L. Wallis. This story follows a girl named Alyssa. She is bumped into by someone who drops their pocket watch. She tries to return it and finds herself traveling on a train to Wonderland with Albert Hare. Alyssa ends up going with the hare to his sister Hatty’s home where everyone keeps calling her Alice. There are great twists and turns in this story. The Queen of Hearts in this story which keeps you wondering until the end; will Alyssa/Alice survive.

The final story is, “Ticking Heart”,  by Michele Roger. The story is about a friend of Alice’s coming to visit her in Wonderland and something is very wrong. The Queen of Spades wants to take over and it’s going to be bloody. Will the good guys save Alice and Wonderland?

I enjoyed this collection of short stories thoroughly. I also found myself looking at the cover thinking it really fits this book. I could read these stories over and over again. I couldn’t put the book down until I finished it.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Vampire Showdown!

A New York Vampire Showdown! By Kristin Battestella

Big city undead sexy for the adults and hip horror for the whole family face off in this bemusing vampire showdown! Which do you choose?

Vampire in Brooklyn – Lonely vampire Eddie Murphy wants Angela Bassett (Black Panther) as his willing bride in director Wes Craven’s 1995 horror-comedy opening with talk of ancient Nosferatu out of Egypt feasting on those lost in the Bermuda Triangle until vampire hunters bro movie must rely on Murphy’s retreads from Coming to America. Excellent “I would love to have you for dinner” winks, sexy bites, and a simmering score betterught the undead to extinction. Now that’s a backstory I’d like to have seen! Foggy harbors, bloody bodies, and a scary wolf invoke Dracula while black and white televisions, hard language, and R attitudes provide refreshing throwback humor. Leaps in the air, breaking through the windows stunts, an unnecessarily elaborate ship crash set piece, and poor visual effects cement the nineties tone, but the Blacula references, monster transformations, no reflections, and itchy gunshots add tongue in cheek to the vampire fangs, pointy nails, and eerie eyes. That wig, though, wolf! The full moon, day servant ghouls a la Renfield, and a heart ripped out of the chest bring the vampy to the street as horoscope warnings, chases, and gore set off the urban creepy afoot. Viewers expect a camp aside or pithy comeback in every scene, but the witty matches the serious horror thanks to little things like, oh say, an ear found at the crime scene that serves both laughter and atmosphere. Increasing ghoul mishaps, “RIP” license plates on the smooth ride, and “Whatta Man” montages set off the dangerous coffin retrievals, but faith versus snakes and vampire lore in a murder investigation are too unbelievable for our tough cops to consider. Unfortunately, the apparently obligatory Murphy disguises are totally out of place. Awkward preacher fakery ruins the vampire build up before another offensive Italian stunt, and the makeup for both is terrible. The evil is good allure could have been better presented with vampire suave rather than dragging the film down with overlong laugh out loud send ups that make viewers wonder where all this is supposed to be going. Why torment this strong woman via stupid delays when you can just charm her instead? The blood pulsing temptations, supernatural flirtations, nightmare paintings, love triangles, and saucy roommates come to a complete stop as if the accent character dilemmas over eternal life, predatory pursuits, and rough seductions. Horror attacks, candles, and juicy vamp outs lead to serious character decisions and tense one on one revelations before a wild finale with a fitting chuckle. I’d have loved a sequel with ghoul turned cool Julius Jones! This is oddly similar to Craven’s Dracula 2000 in several ways, and there are many flawed elements here – pointless narration, meandering focus between the humor and scares, datedness, and uneven try hard that wants to be both niche for Black audiences yet mainstream hit acceptable. Fortunately, overall the late night fun here is still entertaining; a great re-watch with mature, modern vampire chemistry.

 

Vampires vs. the Bronx – Sirens, flickering neon signs, new construction buyouts by Murnau Properties, and paperwork sealed with fangs and screams open this PG-13 2020 Netflix original. Suave tunes, multiple languages, and cultural blends set off the summer heat, bicycles, and friendly neighborhood bodega, but missing persons fliers, Vlad the Impaler logos, and Polidori references provide ominous. Adult gravitas anchors the youthful ensemble, but the realistic kids aren’t trying hard for the camera. These boys just want to impress the older girls but end up embarrassed by mom wanting to get a babysitter. Narrations and video angles a la Tik Tok balance church bells and scripture quotes, developing the locales and characters well as the youths face local gang pressure to do things they don’t want to do. The new white woman in town insists she isn’t one of those types who will call the cops, and the genre mirror to nature commentary is superb. It’s not the hood the kids fear, but the nasty white folks who’ve come

to suck the life out of town. Vampire vows to wipe them out like vermin are all the more chilling because we recognize the gentrification and racist mentalities. What would the authorities care if vampires are pecking bad guys off the street in the Bronx? A wealthy white man writes a check so no one notices those made to disappear, and such a forgotten, downtrodden place is perfect for vampires who want to stay under cover. Friendships are tested when some want to do good for their community and others are right to be wary. Neighbors disbelieve the hear tell vamps dressed like Hamilton taking out the local thugs while humor alleviates suspenseful close calls – the vampire was just coming in to buy…sanitizer of course. Daytime nest explorations and homages to The Lost Boys accent the self aware genre winks while a bemusing montage establishes the lore herein complete with that cookie they hand out at church that doesn’t taste very good aka the “eucharist” and watching Blade. Single mothers try to keep their kids on the up, but the boys are trespassing for vampire proof and stealing holy water in a Sprite bottle. Skeleton keys, coffins, ringtones rousing the dead – what’s worse then being chased by vampires and caught in the backseat of the cop car? When their mothers come to get them but the vampire didn’t show up on your camera. Fun zooms for youthful actions and watchful eyes match creepy red lights, growls, and hypnotic kills as Haitian history preparations and shootouts don’t stop the undead. The kids take the crucifix off the wall and hope tia doesn’t notice, but the powdered garlic comes in handy and calling the Bronx a shithole is the last straw. Although a little short at under eighty-five minutes with credits, the swift solidarity doesn’t stray from its goal. Rather than underestimate the audience with stereotypical obnoxiousness, this refreshing contemporary take is great for young audiences as well as fans of wise and wise-cracking horror.

 

For More Vampires, Visit:

All Things Dracula Video Review

Summer Vampires

Only Lovers Left Alive

Mexican and Spanish Vampires

Odds and Dead Ends: Why Blade’s introduction is a cut above the rest

I make no apologies for discussing Blade, especially when the topic of black vampires comes up. To me, Snipes is the black vampire, at least until we rightfully bring more well known black nightwalkers to the canonical party. And though there’s a new Blade movie in the works for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (just when it’ll come out, who will direct it, where it will come out, are all questions up in the debating room air), and Del Toro did a decent job with Blade 2 in 2002 (we ignore 2005’s Blade Trinity), nothing will fully compare to the opening 10 minutes of the 1998 film, and its near-perfect introduction to the character.

First, a refresher. A young man is taken to a nightclub deep inside a meat-packing plant, and they have to go past rows of animal carcasses to get there. Once inside, it seems like a typical nightclub, with hundreds of teens dancing to rave music in strobe lights. Our young man tries to join in, but is pushed away by the dancers. Then a spot of blood drops onto his hand. The lights come up and the DJ reveals the words ‘Bloodbath.’ Suddenly the sprinklers kick in all over the rave and drench the room in torrents of blood. The young man, confused, tries to escape, but everyone in the room has now turned on him, flashing fangs and snarling. The vampires close in on him. He trips and tries to crawl away before he ends up at a big, clean, leather boot. The crowd parts, the air gets heavy. “It’s the daywalker,” someone says.

Without a word, the action commences. Snipes lunges into action, shooting and spearing, punching, and karate-kicking any vampire nearby, turning them to fire and dust. Soon the vampire security come in, all dressed in black leather, ready to do battle. Blade takes out his namesake sword and traces an arc on the floor. Nobody gets closer than this, it says. And it holds true. Leaping through the air like a wire-fu master, Blade slices and dices, his black leather coat swishing as his attacks come off like dance choreography. When the human police arrive, he leaves one vampire burning, another to take the blame, and escapes through a drain into the windy, moonlit city night.

We must have a little appreciation for the context of the film. Marvel Comics weren’t at the full height of their powers at this time. It would be another ten years before Iron Man began the blockbuster run they’re on now. The Matrix, with all its anime-inspired fight scenes, cyberpunk trenchcoats, and synthwave soundtrack, wouldn’t come out until the year after this. And Blade wasn’t a household name at the time (according to my brief research of the topic), and though he’d appeared in plenty of stories, he wasn’t exactly up to the same reputation as Spider-Man or The Incredible Hulk.

Blade was therefore a daring film to undertake, especially with Marvel and New Line putting $45m on a fairly unknown quantity. So the introduction had to be just right. Spoiler: it was.

It’s vital that the audience fears the vampires. Yes they are teenagers with half their clothes off in the rave, but there’s cunning behind them. There’s a deliberate decision to have the rave in a meat-packing plant behind hundreds of carcasses. There’s a calculation to hold off on mindlessly attacking him until the right time, pushing him away and making both him, and us as an audience, uncomfortable. There’s something deliberate in waiting for the blood to start pouring before striking. There’s something about being covered in blood, and enjoying it, which turns them from humans into vicious pack animals. And there must have been long, logistical thought in how to get all that blood into the sprinklers, and not turning it on until they knew there was a human in the rave to get the full effect. Every vampire knows the plan. It’s cold and calculated, all designed to elicit the maximum amount of fear in the young man, and therefore us.

But then Snipes appears. The hush that falls over the room is beautiful. Blade allows his presence to linger. We’re allowed to see that his attire is spotless. His eyes are hidden. He’s confident and poised. Not only that, but that cold, calculated understanding of the vampires has suddenly turned to fear. Through them, we understand that this character must be important, well known, and a threat. The bloodbath ends and the music quietens down. We feel the tension in the marrow of our bones.

Without uttering a word, the fight scene kicks in. Blade wastes no time showing off a variety of techniques and skills, from gunplay to martial arts, shooting stakes into vampires, using his sword and his glaives (bladed boomerangs). We understand instantly that he’s skilled, knowledgeable, and can adapt to the situation. There’s a nice little setup when he throws his stake-shooting gun across the floor, only to collect it near the end of the fight and impale the final vampire to the wall. It reminds me very much of the old gun-in-the-flowerpot idea from action movies of old. Blade has the right combination of instinct and strategy and brings the sense that he enjoys hunting the creatures down.

It’s this enjoyment of the task which makes this entrance work. Not only do we know that we’re going to be in for a hell of a ride thanks to the directing style, fight choreography, etc, but that Blade smiles when he’s drenched in the blood and ashes of monsters of the undead means that we also get a sense of enjoyment. We know we’re in safe hands, and so we can, in a way, get a secondary kick of catharsis from the scene. If this stranger, who can instill such fear in the monsters of the night, is fighting them off without saying a word, but flashing bright white teeth as he goes about his work, then maybe we can get behind him and enjoy the ride.

There’s very much the feel of an old Western cowboy to Blade, emphasised by the swirling newspapers in the alley as he escapes like tumbleweeds. The drawing of the tip of the blade along the floor in the fight is also similar to the way a cowboy movie might set up a duel. We draw upon subconscious film archetypes within ourselves to understand the scenario. Despite being dressed in black, it’s very clear who the good guys and bad guys are here. And so we return to thinking of Blade, in a way, as John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. We’ve got a natural inclination to get behind these characters, and as we draw the parallels, we put our chips behind Blade. The lone gunman, come to save the town and disappear again.

Everything in this opening sequence is constructed for maximum impact. Drawing upon tropes and ideas from a wide range of genres, the sequence comes in roughly two halves. First, setting up the terror and threat of the vampires, and then using Blade to diffuse our tension, as well as giving us some fighting excitement. It works because, besides the acting, direction, music, cinematography, costumes, and all the other bits and pieces of film form, it’s simply well made. It’s well set up, with clear stakes and conflict, a good fight scene which isn’t too choppily edited, and introduces the character of Blade through mostly visuals (he speaks a couple of lines near the end but that’s it). He’s strong, dangerous, and perhaps a little unhinged (anyone who enjoys slicing up vampires in the way he does must be a little bit wrong behind the eyes). You could watch it without dialogue and it still works. It’s a perfect introduction to one of horror’s greatest vampire anti-heroes.

THE BIGFOOT FILES : Chapter Twenty-Three/ ‘The Mystery of Bigfoot’

“The Mystery of Bigfoot” is a 2013 episode of the History channel series titled America’s Book of Secrets. It begins with the 2012 death of Randy Lee Tenley on a highway in Montana. The 44-year-old man reportedly tried to create a Bigfoot sighting by appearing on the side of the highway dressed in a ghillie suit, but two motorists accidentally struck him with their vehicles.

After opening with the tragedy, the episode hits the high points of the Bigfoot phenomenon with interviews of eyewitnesses and anthropology professors before asking if the elusiveness of the cryptid is part of a U.S. government cover-up. The evidence of a conspiracy is thin, although the episode offers an interesting theory.

Citing the negative impact on the timber industry after the northern spotted owl’s addition to the endangered species list, the episode posits a similar aftermath if Bigfoot is discovered, legitimized, and added to the list. So, in order to protect the logging industry, the government tries to erase Bigfoot evidence. I’ve heard crazier hypotheses.

However, “The Mystery of Bigfoot” avoids a deep dive into the cover-up speculation and veers into the more familiar territory of following a Bigfoot hunt with high-tech equipment. It also features the Falcon Project, a nonprofit research endeavor using “an unmanned aerial vehicle outfitted with cutting edge videography equipment and deployed over ‘hot spots’ of reported activity.”

The episode mentions the 2008 Montauk monster corpse that washed up on a shore in New York. From there, it speculates that the nearby Plum Island Animal Disease Center is believed to conduct secret experiments on animals. The episode then jumps to the question of whether Bigfoot is an animal created in a government laboratory.

“The Mystery of Bigfoot” also covers the 2010 discovery of a finger bone in Denisova, Siberia, from which DNA testing indicates Neanderthal-like hominids apparently bred with modern humans thousands of years ago.

With a runtime of 43 minutes, “The Mystery of Bigfoot” asks interesting questions but fails to deliver any meaningful answers. For the believers, it does not offer any compelling new evidence. As one skeptic said in the episode, “We just need a body.”

NEXT UP: Chapter Twenty-Four: Sasquatch. I review Episode 1 of the 2021 Hulu series.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: RELIGIOUS AND FOLK HORRORS

Religious and Folk Horrors by Kristin Battestella

Horror comes in many forms thanks to these cults, witches, clergy, pagans, and rituals – and some of these contemporary films and period settings are better than others.

The Heretics – Kidnappings, ritual symbols, altars, torches, and cults lead to freaky masks, chanting, demons, and sacrifices in this 2017 Canadian indie. The nightmares continue five years later despite group therapy, volunteer work, and an overprotective mother who won’t let her daughter walk home alone. Assaulted and abused women are meek and apologetic, comforted by time heals all wounds hopeful, but others don’t want to be touched, refusing to be victims and tired of lies that don’t make it better. Would they go back and change their experience or seek revenge? Our female couple supports each other with realistic conversations and

maturity – not horror’s typical angry lez be friends titillation solely for the viewer gaze. Unfortunately, creepy campers, chains, and a scarred abductor ruin necklaces and birthday plans, leading to skull entrance markers, an isolated cabin, and flashbacks of the original attack with hooded dead, white robes, and flowery dresses marred in blood. Sunrise deadlines, whispers of angels, fitting Gloria names, and religious subtext balance faith, doubts, God, biblical aversions, and horns. What’s a delusion and who’s delusional? Who’s right or wrong about what they believe? The multi-layered us versus them, who’s really involved in what sinister, and what is truth or lies aren’t clear amid threats, stabbings, whips, and history repeating itself. Men versus women innuendo and who needs saving attempts add to the less than forthcoming police, lack of answers, and obsessive searches. Who is trying to protect whom? Violence begets violence thanks to fanatical beliefs in the ritual and long-awaited ceremonies. This demon is deceptive, growing stronger and more tantalizing despite a gross, uncomfortable sex scene. Occasionally the boo monster in your face jumps are forced, but the fine body horror, creaking wings breaking out the back, squishing sounds, and black sinews make up the differences. Fevers, convulsions, hairy clumps, and visions increase along with the realizations of what is happening before candles, pentagrams, burns, and one more final sacrifice. Viewers know where it all has to go, yet this remains entertaining getting there via escalating horror invasive, ritual complications, and one ready and waiting demon.

 

Loon Lake – David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott (Dark Shadows, people, Dark Shadows) anchor this 2019 Minnesota set indie opening with 1880 screams, witchy curses, multiple chops, and bloody heads. An unnecessary contemporary driving credits montage restarts the farm country rural as a drunken widower renting an empty home takes the cross off the wall. Distorted camera angles set off the horror as well as pictures of the deceased and the sense of numbness amid the pretty fields, pleasant breezes, overgrown cemetery, and eerie trees. Details on accidental deaths attributed to the witch and the bad luck that follows if you cross her grave three times come at the local diner, and Selby is quite distinct as the pesky old neighborhood kook and his conflicted minister ancestor. The bereaved, unfortunately, don’t believe in ghosts or witches despite tales of church fires, saucy spells, and bound rituals. Flashbacks provide last rites, fresh graves, and refused nastiness alongside spirits in the window, thunder, tolling bells, and number three repetitions. Conversations on grief versus faith are nice, if heavy handed, calming moments before figures in the cornrows, apparitions of the dead, phantom noises, and creaking floorboards. The past sequences, however, are out of order. That may be an attempt at leaving the history open to interpretation or making a case for crazy with guilt unreliable, but the audience has seen independent, over the top evidence of the witch, so we know it’s not all in his head. Despite surreal visions, alluring forest encounters, willing temptations, dead birds, power outages, and spooky lights; it’s also difficult to be on our modern man’s side. He keeps saying “Let me explain” after grabbing a woman when waking rather than admitting he had a nightmare about the witch, still wants to talk it out when threatened for attacking her and completely ignores a full gun rack because screaming at an intruder is apparently the better thing to do. Maybe this is about his learning to believe in both good and bad, but it’s tough to feel for a guy claiming he didn’t deserve this when the witch didn’t deserve what happened to her either. Convenient writing seen in a dream provides an end to the curse, but he doesn’t try to make it right, insisting he doesn’t care what went down – which isn’t the best course of action when she’s naked and bathing in blood. Putting on a cross makes for instant faith, but the seemingly sunny ending and false fake outs are obvious. Although this makes the most of zooms, music, and in-scene scares, once again the flaws here arise in too few people wearing too many production hats, and the imbalance shows by time our man pain protagonist is literally swinging at thin air. While entertaining for both the good as well as the bad, this really feels like two stories in one, and the elder period tale is better of the two.

You Make the Call

The Ritual – Robert James-Collier (Downton Abbey) and Rafe Spall (Prometheus) plan an all bros adventure in this 2018 Netflix original. None of that been there, done that will do, and hiking an obscure trail in Sweden becomes the honorary guilt trip after they stumble into a liquor store robbery gone wrong. This cliché start could have been skipped in favor of the brisk mountain trail memorial toasts directly, for we learn all we need to know thanks to out of shape complaints, new $200 hiking boots, sprained knees, and the realization that they didn’t even climb very far and can see their luxury lodge from the pretty peak. Despite questionable maps, a faulty compass, rain, and no reception, they of course take a shady shortcut through the ominous forest, and if we haven’t seen this movie already, we’ve certainly seen others like it. Rather than the injured and another stay while the other two return for help, logical ideas, talk of bears, and abandoned items from previous campers are dismissed by these husbands and fathers who are a little too old to be acting so stupid. The unrealistic actions dampen the animal carcasses, thunder, and eerie trees as mysterious symbols and carvings lead to a convenient spooky cabin where they can stay the night. They break in, trespassing and ignoring runes and effigies they presume are “pagan Nordic shit” on top of strange roars and growling in the forest. Unnatural lights and distorted dream visuals intermix with bedwetting and sleepwalking frights, and in the morning the men follow a path they know is in the wrong direction just because it’s there and nobody is supposed to talk about what’s happening. More creepy cabins, monsters in the woods, screams, and blood begat missing friends and gory tree hangings before arguments, contrived guilt, and false hopes lead to torches, folk music, and chains. In the end, suddenly brave men make big declarations about their wives when earlier they cowered, passed blame, and couldn’t wait to get away from their families. We know horrors are going to happen, but the giving it away title spoils the supposed surprise. The ninety minutes plus feels overlong because it took so long to get to the creepy death warmed over people and actual sacrificial parts, yet the past looking rural and ancient mythology revelations are the story we should have had. Viewers don’t get to completely see what could be an awesome monster, and the unique Norse legends, pagan worship, and immortal bargains that should have been the focal point seem tacked on after we wasted all that time watching dumb dudes literally going around in circles in a tired guilt versus the supernatural metaphor. The familiar, predictable derivatives are shout at the television entertaining, but it’s tough to overcome the feeling that we should have been seeing the eponymous history perspective while these intruders get what they deserve.

I Didn’t Finish It

We Summon the Darkness – It feels like we’ve seen these rad chicks on the highway before complete with music, talk of make up and sex, and it’s 1988 via 2019 thanks to crimped hair, Madonna bangles, recent vehicles, and modern skinny jeans substitutes that look like dress up for the costume party. Gas station stops, old man innuendo, and televangelist fire and brimstone add to the cliché teases while convenient murder reports on the radio detail satanic symbols found at the crime scene. The jerks on the road are likewise weak with terrible mullets and everyone measuring each other’s meddle with their metalhead expertise gets old very fast. The flashing lights and concert bouncing up and down are also brief and lame tropes alongside the good girl peer pressured into everything cool and crazed, annoying exaggerations. Maybe if you look at this as a parody or if it had been a comedy the tone and style would make sense? The highway home to the rich house is instantaneous compared to drawn out start, and the Never Have I Ever chatting around the fire drinking binges goes on and on when it’s obvious the guys want sex and the girls are disinterested. Who’s really after whom and for what purpose turnabouts are interesting, but not unexpected thanks to the ritual foreshadowing and upside down cross jewelry leading to the drugged and bound. A gender reversal on the horror is supposed to stand out, but one girl’s character development is that she has to pee all the time and everyone is stupid, unlikable, knife playing drunks. You see, this isn’t really about the occult aspects, just a congregation trying to instill fear of the devil by committing murders that look like cult killings. Idiotic interrogations that waste time bothering to explain all this make the threats feel hollow, and I’m so, so tired of so-called righteous assholes giving decent people a bad name. We have enough of that at the top these days, so this didn’t need to be set in an eighties Midwest for the religious hypocrisy commentary. In fact, it might have come across as something deeper if the first half wasn’t wasted on faking period window dressing that doesn’t work. Stepmothers, bloody bodies found, police chases, lone officers who don’t call for backup, psycho daddy pastors – the contrivances just go on and on, escalating until I eventually stopped paying attention.

For More Horrors, Visit:

Witches and Demons

Dracula Video Review

Forest Frights

Book Review: Death Masks by Kim Richards

Review Written by Matt Marovich

Content warning, there will be a non-graphic discussion of sexual assault and rape in this review.

I finished Death Masks by Kim Richards a few days ago and I’ve been rolling it around in my head, trying to decide what I thought about it. 

After some thought, my take is that Death Masks has two stories, one I enjoyed quite a bit and one I didn’t care for very much at all.

Both stories revolve around Bill. On the surface, Bill is a fairly stereotypical character if you asked for a standard model “IT professional”: out of shape, overweight, plays video games on his lunch break, not much for physical activity, or being outwardly social. If that was all there was to him, he’d be a fairly boring, one-dimensional character, one we have seen in countless other books and media featuring awkward, doughy men who have grown up and managed to make their adolescent computer nerdery their profession. However, what saves Bill from being a caricature is the emotional realism that Kim Richards uses when writing him, in particular regarding his relationship with his girlfriend Dixie, and that is the story, their relationship, that I enjoyed most in this book.

Dixie is the opposite of Bill in pretty much every way. Smaller where Bill is large, conventionally attractive for a woman while Bill is kind of a slob, Dixie is a nurse at the local hospital, a profession that works with people while her boyfriend works with machines. She’s an artist, primarily working with sculpture and plaster casts, and athletic in that she works out, goes jogging, and enjoys social dancing, particularly salsa, while Bill would rather drink a six pack, eat some pizza, and shoot pixel zombies. If Bill was true to the stereotype, he might try to passive-aggressively keep Dixie from the things that she enjoys that he doesn’t care about, particularly if they could threaten his relationship with her (like the dancing), but instead Richards writes him in a mature fashion, that even if he isn’t into the things Dixie enjoys, he supports her love of them because they bring her happiness and feed her soul. Early in the book, in chapter three, we have a great example of this as they go “dancing”, or Dixie goes dancing and Bill watches her. While he does acknowledge the occasional pang of jealousy, the focus is more on enjoying Dixie’s happiness and wanting to support her (it doesn’t hurt that she’s gorgeous and it’s a turn on for him to watch her dance). The same goes for her art; she has her own space in the basement that he remarks could make a good home office for him so he could do work from home more easily, but that would mean impacting her personal artistic space and he’d rather not. Seeing the consideration he pays her in regards to the things she enjoys (and the fact that she never gives him crap about his own interests that she doesn’t share) was a nice change of pace and a nice break from an otherwise stereotypical character.

The other aspect of their relationship that made me enjoy this part of the book was how Bill tries to support Dixie’s mental illness. Dixie suffers from depression and anxiety, primarily linked to particular times of the year such as fall and winter as well as Christmas specifically. This illness impacts how she interacts with Bill, at times being snappish or making things more difficult as he tries to navigate the complexities of her illness, and impacts her life in all of the myriad ways that depression and anxiety can. Not once does Bill treat her with anything less than respect and understanding and while he does worry about her, he doesn’t make his concern her problem so that she has to manage him managing her illness. He speaks with her counselor to strategize on ways he might be able to help her and he tries to be thoughtful about her condition. As someone who has had people close to him deal with such illnesses, watching Bill do his best to be helpful and take care of Dixie felt familiar and very real in a personal way. 

While those were the main aspects of Death Masks that I enjoyed, the rest of the plot wasn’t to my tastes.

The main conflict of the other plotline of Death Masks is Bill’s interactions with an unknown assailant. Early in the book, Bill has what might be a very minor heart attack and it scares him into action to try to better his health. In order to do this, he decides to take up walking (with the intent to move up to running when he’s in better condition to) and goes to the nearby park. While on his first foray into fitness, he comes across a scene on one of the paths: a thin figure hunched over the fallen body of a young man, another jogger. Thinking the man on the ground is being robbed, Bill tries to intercede but despite the size difference, the attacker being much smaller, Bill is quickly overcome and rendered unconscious. Before he is clubbed over the head with a rock, he looks up into the face of his attacker and sees a skeletal visage looking back at him. 

We as the reader are given glimpses into the attacker’s mind, a serial killer who uses a syringe full of some unnamed drug that almost instantaneously paralyzes those injected with it. We later learn that the killer targets men of a particular standard of physical attractiveness, stalking them from the bushes of the park’s jogging trails before ambushing them and taking them away to be buried alive while still paralyzed. Throughout the book we come to learn the attacker’s motivations, that they are seeking revenge for childhood wrongs perpetrated on them by their brother and his friends, a gang of drug-using thugs and criminals who sexually assault the attacker, first as what they were told was a gang initiation and later on just because they could. 

Can I just say that I am extremely tired of this use of sexual violence in fiction? Need to have a woman with a traumatic backstory? Have her be raped. Got to give a killer a reason for revenge? They were sexually assaulted. Have to put the female main character in a situation where they are in harm’s way? Have the threat be the explicit potential of them being raped. The use of something so serious feels lazy and, to me, disrespectful. With how traumatic real-life sexual violence can be, using it as the defining moment for why the villain is evil feels like it cheapens the reality of it for me and, depending on your reading, might not speak kindly to victims of such experiences. 

That said, the parts of the book that involve the park stalker struck me as unrealistic. A drug that works the same on people of various body types, regardless of how much they are given, without some suffering side-effects from the drug and nearly instantaneously? The police, when they are involved, are needlessly antagonistic and almost painfully disinterested at times. Despite the fact that the killer racks up a nine-victim body count, there is no rising consciousness of people of a particular gender going missing after visiting the park until very late in the book and, even then, the police are almost entirely dismissive of anything Bill has to say. Finally, in the end, Bill realizes the true identity of the killer when he hears their voice, recognizing it, but somehow fails to do so in their first encounter when he hears the killer speak. The twist of the reveal of the killer’s identity wasn’t really much of a twist and despite the killer’s earlier martial prowess, sweeping Bill off his feet, pinning him to the ground, and clubbing him unconscious, none of that was apparent in the final confrontation. 

My other criticism of the book is that the ending felt rushed, the final showdown only a few pages long.

While I feel like Death Masks started out strong, with Bill and Dixie being complex and well-rounded characters, the killer felt flat and disinteresting in comparison. With the rushed ending and some plot details that seemed inserted only to provide ineffective blinds for the killer’s true identity, the unfortunate impression I’m left with is one of a missed opportunity. 

Book Review: The Bonecarver (The Night Weaver Series) by Monique Snyman

Review Written by Matt Marovich

Content Warning: Sexual Assault, Threats of Rape

Before I begin I need to admit that when I chose The Bonecarver to review I wasn’t aware that it was book two in a series and, if I had, I wouldn’t have picked it up having not read the first. While this book doesn’t rely too heavily on the plot from the book before, recurring characters and their past history with the main character might have resonated and made more impact if I had their complete backstory.

The Bonecarver is the story of Rachel Cleary, a teenage girl attending Ridge Crest High in the small New England town of Shadow Grove. Despite its small and sleepy nature, the town of Shadow Grove is one of mysteries that hide a darkness beneath the surface, where terrible events happen but are covered up by those in charge. Only recently recovering from an encounter with a being called the Night Weaver, responsible for the deaths and disappearances of several children, Shadow Grove has moved on in its silent fashion, ignoring the strangeness and tragedy that had befallen it.

We are introduced to Rachel as she is attempting to take her SATs when a panic attack forces her outside, abandoning the test. While in the bathroom to calm down with a small amount of privacy, she helps save her classmate Mercia Holstein from an epileptic seizure. During this encounter, Rachel finds a small, carved figurine of bone in Mercia’s likeness, her pose and expression identical to her in the midst of her seizure. After this, more terrible things begin to happen to people around the town, each preceded by the appearance of a bone carving of the victim in the midst of an accident. After the discovery of a boneless corpse at her school and a frightening encounter with a strange fae, Rachel’s investigation of the threat takes her into the Fae world in search of allies and, when she returns home, she finds Shadow Grove in chaos as she confronts the creature known as the Bonecarver.

The parts of The Bonecarver that I enjoyed most were some of the descriptions. Monique Snyman does a good job of painting pictures of what she would like you to see and experience, often using all five senses to bring you into the scene. Settings are vivid, movement and action are easily imagined, and her take on classic fae like the Sluagh are memorable. The final climactic scene between Rachel and the Bonecarver is particularly theatrical.

That said The Bonecarver didn’t work for me in several ways. The first half of the book felt slow and stilted, taking quite some time to get going (although the second half of the book flowed much more quickly and felt like the actual story she wanted to tell). Discoveries felt awkwardly placed rather than organically made as if Rachel were stumbling through everything by luck, rather than any kind of skill.

While descriptions were vivid, they sometimes didn’t make realistic sense. For instance, we are told that the highschool was originally a “tiny schoolhouse with three classrooms and an outhouse” but has grown into a large, U-shaped building complete with bell tower, auditorium, cafeteria, indoor swimming pool, and enough classroom space to accommodate three thousand students, all of which were made possible by donations from generous alumni. However, despite the influx of money that made such expansion possible, large portions of the school have fallen into disrepair and “quickly [became] forgotten” because they aren’t used (for instance, Rachel notes that the pool was not filled at any point since she started attending high school). Why would a town waste money expanding a school in such a way without the population to warrant it, only to let it become decrepit? If the town received enough money to expand in such a way, did the money then dry up so that they couldn’t afford maintenance on it? Later the story takes us to the local hospital whose parking lot is full of cars placed there by the town council to make the hospital look busy, only they have begun to rust and fall apart, giving the parking lot more of a junkyard feel. Why is the hospital being busy important? How does the decision to fill the parking lot in such a way, when there are no people to accompany those cars, actually do anything to reach the stated goal of appearing “busy”?

The impression I received reading The Bonecarver was that there were often certain settings and scenes that Snyman wanted and so came up with explanations for them regardless of how much sense those explanations made. In order to have a long, protracted chase scene through the highschool, the highschool has to be large enough to accommodate it (including a ventilation system large enough for people to crawl through), despite a small New England town theoretically not needing a school that big. Rachel finds the boneless corpse in the boiler room of the old school house, which is described equally as being part of the physical structure of the modern high school but also considered a distinctly separate part of the high school because of its disuse, but why would the original school house have a boiler room when it had no plumbing? These are just two examples but this felt like a problem throughout.

Another main issue I took with the book was the almost casual use of sexual assault and threat of sexual violence. While in the Fae world, Rachel is sexually assaulted when a soldier sneaks up and grabs her from behind, fondling her breast in the process, before explaining how he’s going to rape her. She’s able to free herself and escape but the whole scene lacks any emotional punch; the fact that a high school girl was able to extricate herself from an adult, professional soldier with a single backwards thrown elbow makes it seem like the scene was written more to provide Rachel a horse to ride to advance the plot. In that case, threatening to have her raped feels like a cheap gimmick to up the danger of the scene that could have had as much gravitas without it.

We also encounter Nova, a king in the Fae world and brother to Orion, the ally that Rachel goes in search of. While he is present in the book, we learn that he has threatened to rape her in the past but despite this they almost have a cordial interaction when she helps him search for something he lost. However, when confronted with his brother, Nova sexually assaults Rachel in front of him by licking the side of her face and telling Orion what he wants to do to her, using this threat of sexual violence to force Orion to agree to leave the Fae world. Again, this feels like this happens because of the math that if violence is bad, then sexual violence must be worse, when it was completely unnecessary for the scene.

It does make a certain amount of sense when you consider that Rachel Cleary and The Bonecarver definitely fall into that subrenre of dark fantasy YA fiction characterized by Twilight, of the young female protagonist who doesn’t know her own attractiveness but most male characters desire. If Rachel’s worth stems from her unrealized beauty and physical body, then it makes sense that threats to her would be based around the thing being valued. Ultimately, this is the main conflict of The Bonecarver and the primary impetus for why the threat of the Bonecarver exists, which is a sad commentary on why these male characters find her to be important.

Ultimately The Bonecarver didn’t work for me but if you’re a fan of YA dark fantasy focusing around a female protagonist meant to be strong, overcoming challenges and defeating threats, then it may be for you.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant is a Confusing Disappointment by Kristin Battestella

Alien: Covenant – the latest film in the Alien franchise and the 2017 sequel to Prometheus – struggles with its franchise identity crisis, leaving the potentially interesting science fiction parables and body horror monsters wanting in the confusion.

When the colonization vessel Covenant is damaged by passing neutrino blasts, the android Walter (Michael Fassbender) must wake terraforming chief Daniels (Katherine Waterson) and the rest of the crew. After receiving a nearby signal from a mysterious, too good to be true planet much closer than their original vetted destination, leader Oram (Billy Crudup) decides to investigate. Unfortunately, inhaled alien toxins on the surface birth beastly parasites, and David (also Fassbender) – the android survivor of the lost research vessel Prometheus – has been living alone on the planet for the past ten years, studying the remaining Engineer evolution techniques and perfecting their monstrous designs with terrifying results…

Whether it’s Prometheus 2 or Alien 5, Alien: Covenant is immediately frustrating. If this is really an Alien movie, then Prometheus never should have held anything back in hopes of a sequel and just told its tale in one movie. However, returning director Ridley Scott and screenplay writer John Logan (Penny Dreadful) play it both ways as Alien: Covenant opens with android quizzes on The Statue of David, Wagner gems, and Valhalla. Such meaning of meaninglessness threads from Prometheus will confuse viewers who didn’t see it, and Alien: Covenant restarts with the titular colony vessel and its android custodian, Mother computer, and crew in stasis almost as if it’s trying to reboot said predecessor. Fortunately, pod fatalities, charred bodies, memento mori, and offline systems build suspense while radio chatter, spacesuits, and rogue transmissions create a science fiction atmosphere. Eerie forest destruction, Pompeii-like remains and crashed ships add mood but drop ships and lost contact are similar to Aliens while inconveniently convenient planetary storms mirror Prometheus. An entire team trots off for an expedition – leaving only one person behind to make lander repairs – before separating further so a careless guy taking a leak can get infected by some spooky alien particles. Educated people ask obvious questions to which they should already know the answers, adding stilted dialogue on top of back and forth scenes deflating the body horror when not acting stupid for the plot to proceed by willfully scratching and sniffing mystery polyps and not reporting when they feel sick. Friends insist on taking the infected back to the ship, but there’s no procedure amid the hectic radio calls and blood splatter. Women are on the mission just to whine – one tries to lock in another when both are equally contaminated and the visual hysterics don’t let the viewer actually see the out of control. Cutting to what’s happening elsewhere is a mistake when it leaves the bloody reveal a blink and you miss it special effect. It’s scarier when people are trapped with a fast growing monster building claustrophobic fear toward fatal ship explosions. However, the paired off crew members react so over emotionally to death yet barely at all to the creature shocks, necropolis infrastructure, and the suspicious survivor found there. Flashbacks and exposition detailing the pathogens, crashes, and destruction post-Prometheus ten years prior is really where Alien: Covenant should have begun, but we’re watching a woman strip down to wash her open wound in what hopefully isn’t contaminated water instead. After objecting to flying the colony ship down to the planet, minutes later the crew changes their minds once the route is more dangerous while fast action scenes, convoluted lingering, and rushed quality scenes contribute to the unevenness, hampering creepy encounters with new aliens, familiar eggs, and delicious face-hugger revelations. From the prologue to the ship and the planet to the necropolis, rival androids, and onboard terrors; Alien: Covenant is an overlong and confusing two hours with cargo bay trucks, out the airlock solutions, and unnecessary sexy showers littering a nonsensical Aliens copycat finale. What should be wonderfully chilling – gagging up mini alien eggs for the incubator to the Ride of the Valkyries – treads tires because between all the Prometheus rewrites, the four credited writers here, and who knows what more behind the scenes meddling, nobody mapped out where this disappointing prequel plot goes.

There was a time when I was excited for whatever film Michael Fassbender did next. Unfortunately, somewhere around Macbeth or Steve Jobs, Fassbender sold out with all these non-starters and uninteresting flops. Despite this superb dual performance as the poetic, T.E. Lawrence obsessed android David and the clueless but loyal and supposedly inferior model Walter, it’s difficult to look back at Hunger and believe this is the same actor who once so bled for his craft. It’s totally obvious what David is going to do, and the entire homoerotic flute fingering sequence is the invisible car of Die Another Day franchise rock bottom. Surely, there was a better way to show Walter as a stunted childlike machine designed as lacking creativity expressly because David was so disturbingly human in his desires. It might even have been more interesting to not reveal Walter as an android until the xenomorph acid destroys his hand when he protects Daniels. Walter naively thinks he can gain the details from David regarding their creator Weyland and how the Prometheus survivor came to be on this planet. However, David waxes on Lord Byron and thinks himself Crusoe, admonishing Walter for serving the unworthy, dying humans. He preys on Walter’s potential, saying it is love, not duty he feels for Daniels, revealing himself as an abuser who already destroyed the life on this planet. David wants to communicate with the neomorphs and earn their respect while he experiments with the hybrids. Walter knows this is wrong, but David is pleased with himself for creating the perfect organism – and he’s very disappointed in Walter for standing in his way. David has at last procreated, and it’s chilling to see his views realized in several wild births, radical experiments, and violent assaults. Sadly, Alien: Covenant’s clunky exposition and trite script ruin the intriguing android developments with ridiculous encounters and not-so-secret switcharoos leaving no resolution for Walter when both characters deserved more. Alien: Covenant may awe over David’s ambition and chew on the possibilities, but there’s so much happening the audience doesn’t have any time to revoltingly enjoy the villainy.

Although Sam’s daughter Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) is supposed to be the lead, Danny doesn’t do a lot beyond wearing her deceased husband’s iron nail around her neck in a messianic loose thread similar to Shaw’s cross in Prometheus. She’s made less pretty than the other women, and when she officially protests stopping at this perfect planet, she’s presented as a moody bitch only sharing her emo grief misgivings because there’s no point in a home now without her man. Naturally, all the men are allowed reckless manpain over their ladies while Danny easily discovers what David has done when the script bothers to have her look. By the final act she conveniently wants a 2,000 strong colony ship to rescue her just because the plot says it’s time to let the xenomorph onboard and make her a kick-ass action hero. Billy Crudup’s (Inventing the Abbotts) reluctantly in charge supposed man of faith Oram only decides on this planet to prove he’s up to snuff and doesn’t realize he messed up until it personally affects him. Tennessee cool pilot Danny McBride (Your Highness) recognizes John Denver music in the alien signal amid all his sexist jokes before risking the entire mission for his woman – whom viewers already know to be dead. Of course, shortly thereafter, he’s laying the groundwork for his next hook-up. A brief prologue appearance from Guy Pearce (Brimstone) returning as Peter Weyland should have come at the end of Alien: Covenant to fully accent David’s twisted achievements, and Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw is unceremoniously written off post-Prometheus with only a few effigies. We’re told she put David back together, he loved her for her kindness, and that’s that. The movie should have started with the Prometheus characters on this unknown planet and then met the colony ship only upon their arrival. Alien: Covenant is from the wrong perspective and overcrowded with far too many unnecessary characters – mostly screwing up husbands or similar looking wives raising the body count. Anonymous people being in relationships may make excuses for their behavior but it isn’t character development and doesn’t give viewers a reason to care. Showing two guys with matching wedding bands as an attempt at gay inclusion is also embarrassingly homophobic when their only scene is one dying after ejaculating a neomorph from his mouth. Sneaky James Franco (Tristan & Isolde) moments are silly as well because… it’s just James Franco in a promotional campaign for Alien: Covenant.

Thankfully, Covenant is a cool looking spaceship with solar sails, blue hues, green lighting, touch screens, and interface graphics along with red alarms, spooky chains, dangerous ladders, and perilous equipment. Unfortunately, fiery damage leads to CGI spacewalks and noticeable animation intruding upon the interstellar fantastic. Crowded submarine style rooms and music motifs from Aliens are also apparent amid waterfalls and mountain vistas borrowed from Prometheus. It’s also flat-out dumb to waste time on a cool drop ship water landing when there is terra firma everywhere, and what’s with all the dang hoodies? Blood, gore, and creative reverse alien births are appropriately disturbing, however, the surrounding CGI is again weak. Dark scenes and hectic firefights also make it difficult to see all those potentially intriguing hybrid creatures, twisted deliveries, and scary designs. The contrasting advanced ship technology and stranded apothecary research are likewise nice touches that deserved more time – embryos and stasis versus dissections and bestiary drawings. Facehugger scares, acid effects and freaky attacks are always fun to see, yet more than anything, these Alien homages cum knockoffs make one miss the originality and practical design advancements from Aliens. The spaceship action is very messy in Alien: Covenant with pointless, drawn-out action sequences littering the narrative, and it’s not surprising to read interviews with the film’s editor recounting the post-production struggle to balance these multiple storylines each playing at their own pace. Alien: Covenant needs to be re-watched for all its Alien movies pieces trying to bring together the creation theories from Prometheus via confusing Engineer goo, deacons, or xenomorphs yet this entire piece is also in dire need of a re-cut.

Instead of running with what was good from Prometheus, Alien: Covenant plays with its Prometheus connection the way Prometheus played with its Alien connection. Unfortunately, such inconsistent and contradictory carrots string along loyal franchise fans and won’t gain viewers who haven’t seen Alien. As with Prometheus and Alien 3 before, Alien: Covenant can’t serve both its masters and ultimately provides little repeat value, which ironically can be said for Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection. Once again, we have no connection to LV-426 when all people ever wanted to know was how the Space Jockey got there in the first place. Frustration on such could haves or should haves being saved for yet more sequels compromises Alien: Covenant’s potentially entertaining science fiction, religious warnings, and monstrous possibilities with ennui.

For More, Visit:

Prometheus

Eden Lake

Brimstone

Monster Madness Month: Review of GROTESQUE : Monster Stories by Lee Murray

GROTESQUE: MONSTER STORIES 

A book review of Lee Murray’s Bram Stoker Award nominated collection

Reviewed by Renata Pavrey

“Generosity could be as contagious as the plague, as long as enough people were willing to be carriers”, is a quote that opens the book and sets the tone for the kind of writing one is in for. A collection of eleven tales narrated as flash fiction, short stories, and novelettes, Grotesque spans the horror landscape from mythological creatures to contemporary social media addictions, as the reader travels across France, China and New Zealand, meeting everyone from Maori warriors to zombies, spirits and sea gods and gods of earthquakes and volcanoes, Leonardo Da Vinci and Tangaroa, tin soldiers and kaiju. A taut collection I came across in a horror literature forum, the book is in equal parts thrilling, dark and educative, an action and horror fest, with layers of historical references and cultural influences.

The titular story opens the collection with an archaeological find transporting us to the 16th century to reveal its secret. As we move back and forth from the 1500s to present day, fantasy elements of horror merging with historical roots made Grotesque one of my favorite stories and a fabulous one to start the collection as it set the pace for what lay ahead. History is followed by mythology that serves to remind and educate about the stories of lore, as Hawaiki takes us through Chinese mythology, Taiwanese history, and the Maori immigration story; as does Maui’s Hook, another monster story with its foundations in Maori mythology. I love mythological retellings in literature as they teach you so much about different cultures around the world; legends and folklore containing treasures of life stories through the ages. The kaiju story was another one of my favorites.

The New Breed is a post-apocalyptic zombie story, while Cave Fever merges science fiction with horror through a two centuries-old storm that forces mankind to seek refuge underground into a claustrophobic cave existence. Selfie and Dead End Town are out-and-out horror fests. I loved Lee’s take on the millennial social media obsession with her twisted spin on selfies in the former, while addressing domestic violence in the latter. Edward’s Journal was another stunner of pure horror – an epistolary story of colonialism featuring a British soldier from India helping white settlers in New Zealand, while Heart Music takes us through the restless spirit of a fourteen-year-old dead child. Into the Clouded Sky is a novelette of adventures in New Zealand – a ride through action, thrills, and monsters all the way, and Lifeblood pits marginalized groups against each other to detract from their actual problems.

Every story offers a unique reading experience, and encourages you to read between the lines into the theme being expressed in each one. Grotesque is a splendid collection to note the range of the writer’s prowess in relaying stories across genres and themes, having relatable elements as well as something new to learn wherever in the world you might be reading the book. Lee’s dark and disturbing tales cover commonplace topics like clicking selfies, address issues like dementia and child abuse, and turn the spotlight on immigrants and grave robbers – causing the reader to ponder upon who the real monsters are. Grotesque is a collection filled with monsters, but through an array of science fiction, fantasy, horror, mythology and more, Lee reminds us that we have already encountered many monsters; with many more still to be met.

In an increasingly dark and ominous world, monster stories force us to challenge our fears. 

~Lee Murray

This book will delight horror fans and is a magnificent collection for those new to the genre to explore. I would also recommend it to readers of mythology – there’s much information to be gleaned about world cultures. The Maori glossary is a wonderful touch to familiarize readers with terms and phrases in the stories, although Lee does a splendid job in explaining them through the context of the story itself. Lee’s creations are out of this world and each one surprises in its own way. There’s an aftertaste that you could read an entire novel surrounding each plot.

Lee Murray is an award-winning writer and editor with several novels and series to her credit. Grotesque is her first short story collection, which has been nominated for the Bram Stoker Awards this year in the category of collections.

My rating of the book: 5/5

Renata Pavrey

March 2021


Renata Pavrey is a Nutritionist by profession; marathon runner and Odissi dancer by passion; driven by sports, music, animals, plants, literature and more. She reads across several genres and languages, and loves the world of horror – in both, books and movies.

https://tomesandtales365.wordpress.com/Asian

 

Guest Blog : Mr. Mercedes’ Latest Season Premieres and It Brings the Feels by Rebecca Rowland

Mr. Mercedes Latest Season Premieres on Peacock on March 4, and It Brings the Feels

by Rebecca Rowland

In the first fifteen minutes of the third season of Mr. Mercedes, Bruce Dern is murdered. 

Dern plays a best-selling, reclusive writer, and this revelation is in no way a spoiler: not only is the crime the catalyst for the season’s story arc, but it is also the basis for Stephen King’s Finders Keepers, the second in the horror scribe’s Bill Hodges trilogy. According to King, Dern’s John Rothstein is not an alter ego but a mishmash of J.D. Salinger, John Updike, and Philip Roth, but let’s face it: Robert Frost insisted until the day he died that “The Road Not Taken” was not an allegory of selecting an extraordinary life path but only a plain ol’ poem about walking in the woods. Any high school English teacher would beg to differ. 

As a reader of King’s for more than thirty years, I admit to having felt a bit unnerved when Rothstein bit the dust specifically because I equated the fictional author with King himself. Shared grief when a celebrity dies is not a new phenomenon. When the grunge god’s suicide splashed across radio and television, someone spray-painted C-O-B-A-I-N across the interstate exit near my childhood home. When David Bowie, Prince, and Tom Petty were picked off by the Grim Reaper in what seemed like the trifecta of musical rapture just a few years back, I tore their glossy magazine photographs from their media memorials and taped them to my office wall. Watching the first third of season three’s lead episode, I considered what it will be like when King himself takes a final walk down the mile. 

I could track my life based on the release dates of King’s books. I was one of those kids who loved to read; my parents had to lock me outside in order to keep me from hunkering down in my room, my nose buried in a book. Because my father was a diehard Stephen King fan in the 1970s, I, of course, became instantly curious about his books, and at the age of ten, I was allowed to read Thinner because my parents had determined that it was the least nightmarish of King’s works up to that point (body image of a tween girl, be damned). I immediately moved on to The Shining and promptly had trouble sleeping, the obvious culprit being the clear view from my bed of a shower curtain in the night-light-lit bathroom. At the age of twelve, I went to the movies with a boy named Jimmy, and after we watched Silver Bullet, he gave me my first kiss. Throughout my teen years, I favored King’s short fiction, and it is because of Night Shift’s “The Boogeyman” that I insisted my college dorm room’s closet door always be shut completely, much to the vexation of my freshman-year roommate (who, incidentally, went on to executively produce not one but three of the CSI series as well as Murder in the First. I’d like to think my closet fixation takes partial credit for her career success with suspense, but it’s probably just a coincidence…).

After focusing my graduate degree in English on feminist theory, I based my thesis on the portrayal of female characters in popular horror fiction using Stephen King’s most recent releases at the time: Insomnia, Gerald’s Game, Dolores Claiborne, and Rose Madder. After entering the workforce for the first time as an adult, I read The Green Mile in its original serial form and sobbed uncontrollably on the subway after the initial demise of Mr. Jingles. Many years later, while working as a librarian in Western Massachusetts, I had to laugh when I read “Big Driver” in Full Dark, No Stars: maniacal main character Ramona Norville was a librarian, and the story was set in the town in which I was living at the time. 

When I tell people that I write dark fiction—psychological horror, in particular, I am more often than not met with a roll of the eyes or a patronizing tone. Genre fiction, it seems, lacks the street cred inherent with traditional literary fiction. Stephen King is popular, but he’s no Dostoevsky or Dickens, they say. I beg to differ. A professor once told me, a classic is a work of literature with themes and relatability that supersede time and place. There is humanity in horror, at least in well-written horror, that could go toe-to-toe with any stuffy college literature course tome. Although we read horror primarily for the screams, what keeps many of us coming back, no matter at what stage in our lives we are, is the sympathy its characters bring out in us.

And so, I return to the latest television installment of King’s Hodges trilogy. The now defunct Audience Network shuffled the novels of the series, choosing to base its second season on the third book, End of Watch, to mixed reviews. Although there is little to top the show’s first foray, season three captures much of the dread and believability that were often absent from the second ten episodes. Brett Gelman, always a scene stealer in comedy funfests such as The Other Guys and Fleabag, displays dramatic range as attorney Roland Finkelstein and potential love interest for Holly Gibney, but it is Breeda Wool’s portrayal of Lou that is most impactful. Wool inhabits the imprisoned assassin of Brady Hartsfield so strikingly that I’ve added most of her other work to my watch list. 

Season three is aglow with plenty of gruesomeness, from a spontaneous hatchet to one unsuspecting character’s head to a pick-axe being inserted and dragged through another’s, but perhaps the most chilling scene occurs in the final episode of the season, one that brings to a head the mysterious dream sequence Bill Hodges has been experiencing. For me, it is this scene in particular that solidified what the third installment of Mr. Mercedes seemed to be proselytizing all along, that the best writers are the ones whose work continues to impact our lives long after they have left this earth. Was it morbid for me to ponder Stephen King’s eventual demise? Perhaps. On the other hand, it’s possible that horror literature’s crown prince will outlive all of us, Mother Abigail-style. Regardless, for horror fans, he will never really disappear.

 



Rebecca Rowland is the dark fiction author of The Horrors Hiding in Plain Sight and Pieces and curator of the horror anthologies Ghosts, Goblins, Murder, and Madness; Shadowy Natures: Stories of Psychological Horror, The Half That You See, and the upcoming (June 2021) Unburied: A Collection of Queer Dark Fiction. Her work has appeared in venues such as Bloody Disgusting’s Creepy podcast, The Sirens Call, Coffin Bell, Curiouser, and Waxing & Waning and has been anthologized in collections by an assortment of independent presses. For links to her latest publications, social media, or just to surreptitiously stalk her, visit RowlandBooks.com.

Merrill’s Musical Musings: Riot Legion

Greetings HorrorAddicts! Time continues to pass in stops and starts. The days blend together and are distinct only by the latest headlines or weather phenomenon, like what the heck even is an “atmospheric river?” It sounds to me like the next thing in darkwave music. As I write this, we’ve made it through Groundhog Day and that means we’ve passed the darkest time of the year. We have light at the end of the tunnel, and that can be interpreted in many ways. Thank goodness for music, I say, as we could all use a little pick me up. Today I’m here to bring you a new artist who might just get you through the next six weeks of winter that precocious Punxsutawney Phil predicted, the little furry bugger! We need the rain here in the West, but I’m sure folks would like a break from the cold. Hang in there and let’s meet this month’s artist, RIOTLEGION.

RIOTLEGION hail from Seattle and pack a hard-driving industrial sound. Whereas Seattle is known for its grunge musical history, RIOTLEGION breaks with tradition. The album Machine Liberation was released  23 June 2020 through Blind Mice Productions. The brainchild of Michael Coultas, RIOTLEGION is known for high-energy audio-visual performances in the area. Their lyrics delve into the chaotic political landscape we find ourselves in after the events of the past few months. 

Many of the tracks on Machine Liberation lean heavily on distorted beats and chants that might appeal to fans of previously reviewed artists JUSTIN SYMBOL or CELLMOD. “Out of My Head” hits with a hypnotic beat and a rhythmic chant and is a standout on the album and the creepy intro to “Liberation” piqued my interest. The artist relies heavily on flickering synthesized beats and static to add atmosphere to tracks like “Decimator,” and “The One You Deserve.” 

Check out RIOTLEGION if you’re looking for some angry club music to work out some of your aggressions. I’ll be back next month with more new music for you to feast your ears upon. In the meantime, be sure to follow me on Instagram @rlmerrillauthor where I post music recommendations in my stories. I can’t have my lovelies going without the best tunes to listen to, now can I? You can also find playlists on Spotify for my books and whatever mood I’m currently in. Stay tuned for more Merrill’s Musical Musings…


R.L. Merrill writes inclusive romance with quirky, relatable characters full of love, hope, and rock ‘n’ roll. You can find her at https://www.rlmerrillauthor.com and on the socials as @rlmerrillauthor.

 

Book Review: Shelter for the Damned by Mike Thorn


Review by Daphne Strasert

Content Warnings: violence, gore

Mark is a troubled teen in typical white suburbia. He gets in fights, sneaks out of the house, and smokes with his friends. He doesn’t fit into his parents’ ideal life of picket fences, neat lean lawns, and bland dinners. But teenage rebellion takes a turn for the dark when Mark discovers The Shack. At first just an oasis of peace, The Shack begins to ask more and more of Mark in return. Mark is helpless to resist the twisted, violent desires The Shack places in him.

Shelter for the Damned is a slow burn descent into madness. Mark is led into a world of violent reactionism until he finds himself too far to climb out. It’s horrifying to watch his descent. Even as he commits terrible acts, he is numb to the effect of it.

Thorn fearlessly writes the awkwardness of the teenage experience. It’s painful to look at sometimes. Teenagers don’t always make logical decisions; they are ruled by hormones and ego. Thorn manages to convey this well.

Mark is plagued by futility. He is dragged along by the plot, even as he is the one making decisions. It’s a great metaphor for the lack of control teens have over their own lives (externally and internally). Mark’s parents repeatedly ask him why he does what he does, something that he can’t answer. They beg him to change his behavior, which he never does. It’s a familiar feeling that I had while reading. From an outside perspective, it’s infuriating to watch Mark’s downward spiral.

Thorn absolutely nails his portrayal of white suburbia in the early 2000s (I should know, I was there): the eternal expanse of identical houses, the hidden poverty, and abuse, the teens scrabbling for a sense of individuality in a world of carbon copies. In the midst of this conformity, The Shack stands in sharp relief. It’s easy to see why Mark is so drawn to it, even without supernatural influences.

Thorn’s writing brings a literary element to the horror genre. His descriptions are vivid and realistic. He tends toward psychological horror rather than a gorefest. Not to say there isn’t gore, but Thorn treats it tastefully.

I would have liked to see Thorn explore the confusion of whether Mark was insane or possessed or plagued by an eldritch force. He introduced this in the middle of the book but left it unaddressed. I also think he could have played out more the effect each of the murders had on Mark’s psyche. Instead, Mark was too ready to move on from events.

While Shelter for the Damned stars teenagers, I would not classify it as Young Adult. It is a solid horror novel. I enjoyed reading it. Thorn’s writing is a joy to read. If you like supernatural dread, you’ll enjoy Shelter for the Damned.

You may also enjoy Mike Thorn’s short story collection Darkest Hours.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Campy Monsters!

 

Campy Monster Fun

by Kristin Battestella

 

Nestle in with this bemusing array of mid-century monsters and cheesy frights!

The Beast of Yucca Flats– The notorious 1961 SF horror here starts off fun and scary with a toweled pretty, strangulations, space race secrets, communism fears, and nuclear fallout. Unfortunately, this hour is held together by a very dodgy narration which unnecessarily replaces what should be dialogue. It’s mistake numero uno– hardly anyone talks and this makes for the least amount of character development possible. No performance happens; it’s a story being told. While that’s fine in cartoons perhaps, aren’t you making a film because of the show don’t tell possibilities? It’s unrealistic to expect a serious science fiction or spooky adult audience to sit through something like this-which is as is really nothing more than a naughty children’s short. That’s Rule 2: don’t underestimate your audience. Did I mention the music is also much too much? Yes, this ‘film’ is seriously flawed, and to some, that is its very appeal. Fans who enjoy the hokey of the day will love the cars, pace, and weak fifties filmmaking style, and drinking game fans can have a wonderful time with the utterly fake shoot-out and car chase. It’s like they’re kids with pop guns spinning the wheels of parked cars! This one must be seen to be believed, indeed.

The Giant Gila Monster – It had been ages since I’ve seen this 1959 hokey! Though everyone has probably scene clips from the fiery finale, I’d forgotten how much fun this mix of sock hop, classic tunes, cool cars, fifties nostalgia, and creature feature effects really is. The bemusing doom and gloom introduction and opening deaths are accented with some over the top scary music to match the silly premise, and the real lizard footage is downright charming! Sure, nothing is frightening because of the ridiculous production values, but the simple A to B to C execution proceeds at an entertaining little pace. And man, Don Sullivan (Teenage Zombies) and his tow truck are always handy! This teen not only looks 35, but he helps strangers, loans books to the sheriff, and sings to crippled little girls. Of course, the Mexican portrayals are a bit offensive if brief, and though the supporting greasers are totally limp acting-wise, drunken DJ Ken Knox is on form corny at his protest over $2 for a tow. The fifties redneck colloquialisms might be tough for some young viewers to understand today. However, this is all just great for audiences looking for such dated vehicular vernacular- a mid-century Texas time capsule captured before the turbulent sixties began. Yes, it’s completely hokey, but it works, and works damn amusingly!

The Monster Maker – Lovely piano concertos set up the gothic mood, eponymous twisted science, and good old-fashioned lovelorn obsession in this hour-long 1944 science fiction horror tale starring a juicy J. Carrol Naish (Beau Geste) and Ralph Morgan (Magnificent Obsession) as his forcibly misshapen and sympathetic victim. The then-contemporary designs and cool science lab are also a treat- except for the ape, of course. Why must there always be a man in a monkey suit in these old capers? A few scenes do drag or feel slow and long despite the short length, and the formula plays a little obvious at times. However, the fun, over the top style works. Women scream, get manhandled, and blackmail. It’s of its time, but entertaining nonetheless.

The Wasp Woman – It seems Roger Corman really likes his women, and this 1959 creepy is The Fly for chicks. Though not saucy or purely for ogle value- which is both good and bad depending on your point of view- the outdoor values, regular Fred Katz music, and scary buzzing sounds set off the more mature science fiction thoughts and laboratory desperation. One chick does get to slap another hysterical chick, yes, but the concepts here are just as fun. How far will we go for beauty? What cost is too high? The suggestion of bees and wasps is also chilling for those who dislike insects and simply terrifying to anyone allergic to bee stings. The sound is tough to hear in some spots, and the added prologue is slow in establishing the freaky premise of using wasp extracts as the fountain of youth. Some animal testing scenes are iffy, too. Thankfully, the fun labs and haywire science keep this one interesting.

Merrill’s Musical Musings: Ro’s Recs /Women Get Spooky

Ro’s Recs: Women in Metal 

Heavy Metal and Horror will forever be intertwined. Ever since the first notes were played by founding fathers Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, the two genres began a relationship that is symbiotic. Women didn’t always have a role front and center in the music, but that, my fellow horroraddicts, is changing. 

The women carrying the dark torch in music these days are inspirational and powerful. Their musical styles and their backgrounds may vary, but they’re continuing to prove that women can rock hard and they continue to explore the dark recesses of society that horror fans love to dwell in. Check out these bands and find some new favorites. 

Spiritbox, hailing from Vancouver, British Columbia, features lead singer Courtney LaPlante, whose voice is absolutely mesmerizing. From their name to the imagery in their videos and their dark lyrics, Spiritbox is a horror fan’s dream band. I guarantee if you give a listen, LaPlante’s vocals will have you spellbound. 

In this Moment from Las Vegas, Nevada, are veterans of the metal scene. Rock Goddess Maria Brink not only brings her unique vocal styling full of emotion and drama to the band’s hard rock sound, but her lyrics explore everything from the horrors women experience to dark fairy tales and pagan symbolism. If you EVER have the opportunity to see the band live, do not miss out. Here is a clip from a collaboration with the Metal God, Rob Halford of Judas Priest.    

 The Napalm label’s artist Tetrarch has a sound that will appeal to fans of Linkin Park as well as heavier metal bands like The Amity Affliction. Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, and now LA-based, the band features guitar player Diamond Rowe who proves that chicks can rock hard! She was also the first Black female lead guitarist to be featured in Metal Hammer magazine. Their video for I’m Not Right has a horror feel to it that I can totally vibe with. Anyone who’s been bullied can relate! 

Code Orange, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a band I discovered after hearing Corey Taylor from Slipknot rave about them. Their music has an intensity to it that reminds me of Slipknot and is filled with time changes, unique sounds, and creepy effects that make my black heart happy. The video for Underneath, which features guitarist Reba Meyers on vocals, is a sci-fi/horror show that all of my fellow horroraddicts will dig. Check out the band and the video, which was directed by @maxmoorefilms

 

And on the harder edge of the metal scene, you can find long-time metalcore veterans Straight Line Stitch from Knoxville, Tennessee. Lead vocalist Alexis Brown is fierce. Her vocal stylings travel effortlessly from screams to melodic choruses. Check out their video for Black Veil.

I am always seeking out the best in new music and you can read my reviews and recs here on HorrorAddicts.net as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @rlmerrillauthor. Stay Tuned for more Ro’s Recs and Merrill’s Musical Musings… 

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R.L. Merrill writes inclusive romance with quirky, relatable characters full of love, hope, and rock ‘n’ roll. You can find her at https://www.rlmerrillauthor.com and on the socials as @rlmerrillauthor. You can also find her Hope, Love, and Queeromance posts over at www.queeromanceink.com

 

Book Review: “Severed Wings” by Steven-Elliot Altman

Hello Addicts,

Imagine that you are an actor on the cusp of becoming a breakout star in a new series, only to have fate take it away in the blink of an eye. How low would your life sink, and what would you do to get that life back? These are the questions raised by Steven-Elliot Altman in Severed Wings. .

Brandon Jones is a rising star set to take on a sitcom role that he sees as his big break. Fate intervenes in the form of a head-on car accident that takes the life of a teenager and places him paralyzed from the waist down and permanently in a wheelchair. He breaks up with his girlfriend, a starlet in her own right, loses the sitcom role he fought hard to get, and cuts off contact with family and friends. He sinks into depression, finding solace in alcohol and companionship with a drag queen and an escort working her way through college.

Life and circumstances change when new neighbors move in down the hall. At first, they are a mystery he feels a strong urge to solve, but he is smitten when he sees the woman living there. Unfortunately, while she is distantly friendly, her boyfriend is anything but that. The mystery behind the couple deepens when a man leading a blind older woman knocks on Brandon’s door by mistake. He recognizes the woman as a prestigious agent. Her presence in their apartment building is enough to inflame his curiosity further. What follows are miracles and the discovery of entities almost as old as the world itself.

I found the take on a man falling from the highs of stardom to the lows of despair, self-loathing, and depression to be engaging. The supernatural elements fold into the mix in a satisfying way for the tale. There is a bit of redemption towards the end, although it doesn’t go as far as offering a thoroughly happy ending. If you are looking for a quick read a la the Masters of Horror television series, I think this will satisfy that craving.

Until next time, Addicts.

D.J. Pitsiladis

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Night Watch (1973)

Elizabeth Taylor does Horror in Night Watch

by Kristin Battestella

Upscale housewife with history Elizabeth Taylor thinks she witnesses a murder in the creepy abandoned house next door in the 1973 British thriller Night Watch. Unfortunately, her broker husband John Wheeler (Laurence Harvey) nor her carefree best friend Sarah (Billie Whitelaw) believe her. The police are tired of the increasing phone calls and neighborhood hysteria, but the terror escalates thanks to stormy nights, pills, alcohol, and slit throats.

Director Brian G. Hutton (Where Eagles Dare) and writers Evan Jones (The Damned) and Tony Williamson (The Avengers) adapt the Lucille Fletcher (Sorry, Wrong Number) play with flowers, quaint English gardens, and smiling rapport. The swanky drinks before dinner and lingering sixties style, however, contrast the looming gothic manor next door. The grounds are said to be poison where nothing will grow, but someone is digging in the backyard on stormy nights, and vivid dreams of speeding cars, accidents, and morgue terror distract from the snobbish talk of avoiding lesser neighbors. Late night waxing on the fatal past invokes a wee small hours limbo – traumatic memories and two characters who’ve lost touch make for fine drama before raging storms and screams reveal something horrible across the way. Dead men and cutthroats disturb the classical music, but inspectors find nothing in the congested, maze-like condemned as Night Watch relies on performances and mood rather than sensationalism for its taut, through the shutters peering. Pills or brandy are suggested to keep calm, but flashlights, clutter, and foreground objects layer the visual frame. Viewers are looking for something – questioning what we see or didn’t see. Could it all be an honest mistake? The police think it’s nothing but “money and menopause” on top of brief nudity, shower saucy, and hotel room trysts. Newly planted trees aren’t enough evidence, but nuggets of information trickle out from the ensemble. Suspicious neighbors find it exciting that there’s hear tell of a dead body nearby yet refuse to have their bushes dug up as part of the official search. Red herrings add to the creepy commentary about disliking neighbors who were there before you just as much as the friends you choose living even closer. Who’s watching whom and from which house questions layer the voyeurism alongside debates on hallucinations, eidetic images, and convincing oneself that what you see is real. Old mementos thought lost suddenly reappear, leading to arguments about gaslighting and being deliberately terrorized as more police calls, chases, and curiosity create a ‘burbs mind your own business across the hedge. Despite lights next door, the case is closed – inspectors and doctors both strongly suggest everything go back to normal amid awkward dinners, screams, and more off-screen witnessing. Revelations about what had really happened in previous accidents and shock over-identifying bodies found in flagrante delicto provoke more tension in the increasingly crowded quarter. Eventually, the police laugh and roll their eyes, proposing our housewife contact the building owners herself or hire a private detective. All the paperwork is ready for a trip to “rest” in Switzerland, too – accounts, legalese, and power of attorney but that’s all just routine. Confrontations, secrets, and lies will out thanks to hide and seek twists inside the derelict. Night Watch gets its horror on in a spooky multi-layered finale of blood, violence, crazed attacks, and frenetic turnabouts. Who exactly was really planning what and when? Seemingly early and obvious giveaways make room for more surprises, and Night Watch ensures the shocking schemes are ultimately completed with skill and gravitas.

Flowing gowns, glam necklaces, rock rings, and coiffed hair assure Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra) looks classy as well to do housewife Ellen Wheeler. She dresses for dinner, drinks, and does jigsaw puzzles, for she needs patience to give her something to do when she’s so often alone. Her ritzy life should be nothing but grand, however, the insomniac Mrs. is up all night fascinated by storms and thinking about her father’s bad poetry. She’s been spoiled yet feels restrained and bored. The watch during the night is for all the things you can’t make sense of during the day, says Ellen, and she’s increasingly returning to memories of her late first husband Carl. Dreaming of his accident keeps her awake – she vividly recalls the fatal scenes and blood the viewer never sees but doesn’t remember previously dealing with the police and feels nervous about talking to them. However, Ellen also doesn’t want to be coddled or hear this witness is all in her mind, and she’s angry when no one believes her, even more hysterical over the disbelief than upset by the crime she apparently saw. Without support, Ellen is increasingly frazzled, pathetic, and paranoid. Will she voluntarily go to the doctor so he can tell her the dead body is all in her mind? What happens when she thinks she sees another one? Mrs. Wheeler’s wheels turn as she suspects her pills, beverages, and if someone is deliberately making her recall Carl’s demise. Despite her full house with husband, friend, and maid, Ellen fears someone else is watching her. She repeatedly calls the police and eventually agrees to see the psychiatrist, and though desperate, she is not stupid. Ellen is quite intelligent and recognizes when she’s being lied to or signing the wrong papers. She’s damn shrewd in seeing what’s what, and Night Watch’s madness begins to make sense as only Dame Elizabeth could make the clicking of the retractable pen so sassy and defiant before refusing to take the last tranquilizer in the bottle. Long drags on the cigarettes and strategic pauses emphasis the deliciously dark camp, and I’m surprised Night Watch feels so obscure when Taylor’s performance is so chill.

Laurence Harvey’s (The Manchurian Candidate) stocks and bonds big wig John Wheeler wants to know why his wife can’t sleep. He works long hours, but wonders what he’s done to upset her even if she says it’s not him. John takes care of Ellen, babying her with warm milk the way a daughter goes from father to husband to protect her. However, John does not believe she’s seen anything. He won’t call the police over a false alarm and insists the inspector not upset his already not well wife. John won’t stick up for her claims, yet he warns the police to not dismiss Ellen. Although he’s worried over the dangerous mix of alcohol and sleeping pills, John’s more concerned about possibly being sued by an angry neighbor. He dislikes when the police want him to control his wife and encourages her to see their doctor friend once he’s tired of her bringing up her late husband. John agrees she is right when Ellen suggests they take a holiday – but she says we and he only wants her to take a vacation. He has all that “spa” paperwork ready! Swanky best friend Billie Whitelaw (The Omen) on the other hand, is the houseguest who won’t leave. She keeps saying she’s moving on to Scotland and debates running away with her latest on and off conquest Barry but may have other tête-à-têtes, too. Sarah stays to look after Ellen, providing tranquilizers and hot chocolate while waxing on all the adventures she could be having and the excuses she can make up to get away with them. Although she tries to avoid topics that will upset Ellen – like Carl – they always creep back into the conversation. Sarah insists Ellen can’t go on like this, but as the third wheel in the marital house, her companionship is automatically suspect. She lies to spare Ellen but also apologizes for her tall tales. Doctor Tony Britton (The People That Time Forgot) must also tread lightly with Mrs. Wheeler. He doesn’t want her to be committed but needs her to voluntarily trust his help. Above all, he insists that she must get out of this house before it’s too late.

Spooky black branches, dark blue skies, boarded windows, banging shutters, and overgrown vines contrast the mirrors, red leather couch, white staircase, and swanky record players next door in Night Watch. Creepy statues and artwork, blue lighting, ticking clocks, and swirling cigarette smoke add ominous to the hip turtlenecks, lux lamps, decanters, and manicured gardens. Knives in the kitchen, rain splatter on the windows, and vintage blue sirens create pulsing tension while gates, flashlights, and condemned interiors set off the congested mood. Horseshoe phones, switchboard operators, and retro trench coats should be cozy nostalgia, but the colorful outdoors disappear as the peering through the blinds and drawn shades invoke agoraphobia. Distorted dreams and intense flashes of past car accidents lead to dead bodies and hospital Disturbia thanks to low camera angles and spotlights. Night Watch has subtle, choice visuals with reflections of the scary house on the fine townhouse window overlaying all action inside and out. Well done cinematography provides dark scares as well as focuses on Taylor’s face as zooms hone in on critical images and objects. Thunder punctuates arguments as the rhythms escalate, and through the gate, chases move the action to our spooky neighbors amid barren beams, peeling plaster, creaking stairs, and exposed woodwork. Violent struggles in the dark and shocking silhouettes allow for what we don’t see suspicion and final revelations. Wise viewers may pick up on the mystery here for there are too many similar stories to Night Watch before and since. Audiences looking for full-on horror a la Hammer of the day will be disappointed, too. Fortunately, the psychological chills, spooky twists, and superbly unraveled cast do get their scary on in an entertaining end. Night Watch is a fun late night tease worth seeing more than once to catch all the whodunit winks.

For More Retro Women in Horror Visit:

Death Becomes Her

Dial M for Murder

Dead Ringer

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Period Piece / Horror Ladies

Period Piece Horror Ladies by Kristin Battestella

What’s more wonderful than a gothic woman in fancy clothes and delicious settings experiencing crimes and ghosts with a dash of scandal, saucy, and the supernatural?

Angelica – A Victorian couple spirals into paranormal horrors thanks to puritanical repression in this brooding 2017 tale starring Jena Malone (The Neon Demon), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), and Ed Stoppard (The Frankenstein Chronicles). Ghostly photography, flashbulbs, and empty chairs contrast the bustles, parasols, and formalities before lanterns, carriages, fine townhouses, and storms. Bedridden confessions lead to earlier courtings with circus sideshows and talk of Darwinism versus the stiff upper lip British tapering their animal appetites. The microscope revealing disease causing organisms is almost as fantastic as the camera capturing spirits, and while it’s okay for a young lady to work in a stationery store selling nibs and ink, she can’t see her future husband’s laboratory. Our humble orphan now in elaborate red dresses is called a counter jumper by the aristocratic ladies, and she’s fearful of the bridal bed before enjoying it in a scandalously active montage. Bells toll amid talk of losing a mother nor wanting to be one, and this birth is graphic, not maternal bliss thanks to scalpels, screams, and both lives at stake. Unfortunately, the doctor says another pregnancy is not worth the risk, and the couple should “desist entirely” and close her garden. Our husband doesn’t want to seek pleasure elsewhere, but she can’t get into other..options…and favors their toddler over him. Soon, she’s completely revolted by her husband and obsessively attached to the child, and the wife is made to feel guilty about her health and desires by everyone in tense Victorian melodrama. Men in suits have no trouble warping her mind, but they are shocked to see a woman enter the medical theater amid animals in cages, exposed brains, and disturbing experiments that put the creepy back into the complex characterizations. Strange noises, visions of germs in the air, bugs in the woodwork, and wardrobes that open by themselves lead to more anger as the husband dislikes the chaos his overprotective wife is causing in their home. She won’t let these apparitions prey on her daughter – who also sees this floating ectoplasm man in her room. Is she putting more notions in the imaginative child’s head? Is this mental illness or is the repressed sexual energy seeping into the house itself? The maid calls in a scam artist spiritualist to ring bells, burn sage, and banish the banshees. Rather than a charlatan taking advantage, however, there’s a woman to woman understanding and courage – a protection spell is more like peace of mind somewhere between being a modest mother and the shame of enjoying sex. There are also unspoken lesbian veils, entertaining women while your husband’s away, putting their feet on the table, showing their legs, and drinking his best port. Drunken undressings provide laughter instead of rattling doors, swarming entities, prayers, and fires against evil. If he is not at home, who is festering this supernatural activity? The drama before the horrors may be slow to viewers expecting in your face scares a minute, but the intriguing characters are intertwined with the fear. Our mother needs to destroy the snake manifestations and demon man coming for her daughter before her husband sends her to Bedlam, and the once beautiful interiors become stifling as ghostly sexual encounters escalate to mind and bodies becoming one with blood and penetrations of a different kind. Although the bookends are unnecessary and this seems caught between two audiences – too much drama for horror fans and intrusive paranormal activity for period piece viewers – such Victorian horror drama with a touch of LGBT is perfect for fans of gothic mood and psycho-sexual dreadfuls.


Lizzie – Maid Kristen Stewart (Twilight) gets steamy with the titular turn of the century murderess Chloe Sevingy (American Horror Story) in this 2018 biopic accented with fine costumes, rustic lighting, and vintage Victorian interiors. Six months before the screams and blood, the buttoned-up, repressed daughter is already defiant against the patriarchal oppression by going to theatre parties unaccompanied where low cut, colorful frocks contrast the tight collars and immediate sexual tension at home. The Bordens can’t have anything too extravagant despite being able to afford it, and Lizzie prefers the barn and animals to people, reading aloud in an innocent but antisocial loneliness. While some dialogue is a little too modern, our eponymous lady has a progressive, forceful, even masculine energy that can’t be contained with fainting spells. Our old maid is called a lesbian abomination but in turn rightfully calls her perverse, abusive father a lying coward before creaking floorboards, broken mirrors slid under the door, revenge injuries, and burned documents reveal the truth. The up-close camera often peers through the window, catching the glances as each lady looks at each other – the audience is in on the intimate possibilities but when your employer suggests his servant leave the door to her hot attic room open, she can’t exactly say no. The strict orders and behind closed doors implications are uncomfortable enough without the often seen exploitative, degrading visuals, and the women bond during intimate undressings and corset tightenings. Theft and rebellious acts increase amid suspicious business deals, threatening letters, and whispering relatives. The women have to eavesdrop to learn what the men are planning for them before violent punishments and one and all sitting at the dinner table like nothing has happened. Is murder the only way out of the hypocrisy? Were the violent tendencies always there or could you be crazy in love enough to kill? The ax is shown throughout the potboiler, and although the stifling camerawork may be disorienting to some viewers, it mirrors the closeness when it is both welcomed by the women or invaded by nasty men. Regardless of height, the unprotected ladies must look up to the creepy uncles, diminished and fearful of physical violence. Retro photo pops accent the bludgeoning editing before jail and witnesses on the stand provide the fallout from this infamous hatcheting. Premeditated accomplices, church bells, deliberate nudity, and out of control horror are worth the wait once the finale reveals the symbolically sexual posturing, vomit, and splatter. Some people just don’t have the stomach for this sort of thing while others so smooth have thought of everything. There is some unevenness with the characters – probably from when the project was envisioned as a television piece with bigger roles – and the killer romance meets Victorian women’s lib messages are mixed. However despite liberties suggesting what went on in this congested house and a decidedly quiet, not mainstream style that won’t be for everyone, this interesting perspective will have viewers studying this disturbing murder case with a sympathetic, personal anew.

 

Rebecca – Artistic ingenue Emilia Fox (Merlin) – companion to wealthy gossip Faye Dunaway (Don Juan DeMarco) – is smitten by the suave yet mysterious Charles Dance (Bleak House) in this 1997 three hour Masterpiece adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier novel. Sublime style, flapper headbands, candlelight, and long stem cigarettes add to the whirlwind 1927 Riviera’s scenic drives, classic convertibles, and charming hats. Unlike the immediately gothic grayscale of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 version, vivid color and visual depth layer this initially idyllic romance. Our unusual couple have each been shy, lonely, and sad, but Maxim de Winter admires this young lady’s innocence and honesty compared to the gilded aristocracy. Picnics, boat rides, a silly girl, a foolish old man – can they make a go of their differences? The dangerous curves and perilous drives suggest something slightly sinister brewing amid glimpses of the unforgettable and beloved by all Rebecca. It’s been a year since her death, yet everyone must remind Maxim of his late wife upon this surprising second marriage. The newlyweds return to the lovely English gardens and proper decorum at Manderley, the estate where the Emmy winning Diana Rigg’s (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) icy housekeeper Mrs. Danvers won’t let go of the first Mrs. DeWinter’s memory. The household reception is awkward and chilly – the coastal brightness turns darker thanks to shadow schemes, lighting changes, and the looming silhouettes of both Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca. Despite being a large estate with a west wing facing the sea, the hefty staircases, huge windows, and great fireplace feel congested, closing in on the new, nervous Mrs. as she gets lost wandering the shuttered parts of the house, breaks priceless statues, and hangs her head like an admonished little girl. She doesn’t fit into the upper-class routine, but the brooding, often misunderstood Maxim doesn’t want her to become like those other cruel, aristocratic dames. Everyone is so heavy handed, formal, and not just unhelpful but resentful of how unlike Rebecca she is, and the couple regrets returning home to the rocky cliffs, beachside cottages, and distrustful staff. Crazy hermits, past gossip, vogue cousins too close for comfort, recreating previous fancy dress balls, and one big costuming faux pas strain the relationship further, but she can’t exactly ask her new husband about why the pieces on how Rebecca drowned aren’t coming together. Her room is still kept as is, almost in worship where our devoted housekeeper can express her creepy vicarious and pathetic intimacy, re-enacting brushing her madam’s hair and laying out her perfumed nightgown. Was Rebecca really so perfect? If she wasn’t would anybody actually say so? Her presence is overwhelming – not because of any actually supernatural mood or ghost, but because the obsessed Mrs. Danvers won’t let anyone forget, placing the fanatical pressures of her devotion on the second Mrs. de Winter. Foreboding strings add more ominous, however, the suspense is certainly helped by Maxim’s not coming clean on his life with Rebecca at the start. While some scenes are very similar to Hitchcock’s vision, this is also closer to the novel, and even if you’ve seen other adaptations, viewers are swept up in wondering how the secrets will play out in the finale. Fog, vintage boats, watery evidence, mistaken identities, inquests – the circumstances surrounding Rebecca’s life and death come to light, but our servant oversteps her bounds with cruelty, jealousy, and bullying suicidal whispers just to assure Rebecca everyone thought they knew and loved won’t die. Though more romantic than true crime, the fresh love, and warped liaisons are told swift and honestly as the scandalous true colors are revealed with fainting spells, medical discoveries, fiery rescues, and kisses in the rain. Indeed all the gothic staples are here with period mood and performances to match.

The Turn of the Screw – Downton Abbey alum Michelle Dockery joins Dan Stevens (again) and Nicola Walker (MI-5) in this ninety-minute 2009 BBC adaptation of the Henry James askew moving the repressed ambiguity to 1921 institutions with post-war doctors analyzing our governess’ infatuation with her employer, the topsy turvy male shortage, and of kilter Bly Manor. Fashions, hats, sweet automobiles, fine woodwork, and hefty antiques sell the refreshing setting, however, the nonsensical strobe flashes look amateur on top of the time-wasting, disjointed doctoring add-ons, and unnecessary narration. Visions of dalliances that initially upgrade the Victorian scandalous soon hit the viewer over the head one too many times as the governess imagines her master and his saucy approval. She insists she’s not the nervous type, but the dark interiors, maze-like staircases, and distorted camera angles add to the strange noises and creepy country manor unease. She’s in charge, above housekeepers and maids, but there are too many flighty women doing all the work in this house. Parasols and summer white contrast eerie fog and trains as her boy charge is expelled from school without explanation. The cheeky children whisper about their previous, pretty governess – unbothered by screams, accidents, or dying maids. Melancholy piano music, graveyard echoes, dark figures amid the trees, and faces in the window build on the female isolation, yet all insist there are no ghosts – surely she’s just hysterical, overwrought, and obsessed with men. Rumors of suicide and a woman ruined by her lover seem proved by hidden pictures of the master’s up to no good valet, and tales of his violence among the unprotected women are better than seeing suspect flashbacks. The prim style degrades to loose hair and nightgowns as our governess jumps to dire conclusions and possessive delirium, but the shouting about it afterward with her doctor interruptions break the tainted picnics and frantic tension. We don’t need his sounding board to deduce her fears, just let us see the abusive violence and water perils. Crazy laughter and disembodied voices escalate as the phantoms, repression, and projection possibilities culminate in a one on one battle for the truth. The deviations here are flawed, and while the horror lite is fine for gothic period piece fans, some viewers will expect more than to have it both ways attempt at the ghosts and crazy ambiguity. This isn’t the best version but thanks to the cast and unique setting, it can be a good introduction for audiences who haven’t seen The Innocents.

 

For More Gothic Horrors visit:

Crimson Peak

Penny Dreadful 1 2 3

The Frankenstein Chronicles 1 2

Book Review: Blackwater Val by William Gorman

Blackwater Val  by William Gorman
Reviewed by Ariel DaWintre

This story revolves around a place called Blackwater Val. The main characters are Richard and his daughter Katie, who is six-years-old. He takes her back to where he is from to take care of some personal things. Richard realizes right away that he has forgotten a lot of his past, but that he is starting to slowly remember. Blackwater Val seems so normal at first, but strange things are starting to happen and a dark past is being uncovered. Although Richard starts to remember his past, what he thinks he knows is not always accurate or true and we learn along with Richard.

I found myself writing a list of what I perceived to be the monsters, ghosts, demons, or bad guys in the story. There seemed to be quite a few. I kept wondering who the bad guy was and was he controlling them all. I liked that even though I thought I knew who the bad guy was, it wasn’t that simple. The story also brought in true facts from the past about the Indians in the area and the wrong that was done to them. Although Blackwater Val is not a true place, the locations around it are. I also found myself looking up things on Google, wondering which parts were real and not. I can now officially say I know a lot more about Suak Indians.

This is a definite horror story and there is blood and guts aplenty. This is a classic good vs evil tale, but nothing is simple as lines are drawn and a battle unfolds. The details and story are clear and you will stay up and be kept engaged and rooting for the good guys to win. The story has several twists that will make you go, “Wow.” There is also an element of magic and special gifts introduced into the story. There is not really a romance in the story but it has a romantic element with a strong sense of family and friends.

The main evil in the story is very twisted and scary and relentless throughout the story. Clearly, Blackwater Val brings out the worst in some people. The author does a great job of bringing his characters to life and keeps you wondering how the story will end and who will come out okay. The story gives a good ending but leaves an opening that not all is settled and done. Can’t wait to read the sequel.

Merrill’s Musical Musings : Vexillary

Greetings HorrorAddicts and welcome to a new year! I plan to bring you some groovy reviews and righteous recommendations this year to keep your tuneage vibing. Or something like that. Despite the insanity that was 2020, many artists were able to come up with inspired material and I’ll share some great picks with you over the coming months. 

Vexillary is an instrumental project by New York based Reza Seirafi that was influenced by the artist’s love of blending components to create something new. A chemist in his other life, he likes to take seemingly inharmonious sounds and make them fit together. Tracks like “Maritime Panic” offer additional sonic adventures with each new listen. “Annihilation” has a manic feel that leaves the listener grasping at the elements and trying to find something to hold onto. There is a feeling of doom, especially in the opening notes of “Forged Skies” but this offering of electronica is never gloomy, and by the time you reach “The Geneticist,” the mad scientist vibe of the SurViolence is complete.

Vexillary is music for those who need an intense infusion with a side of chaos to make their aural journey complete. Give it a listen and let us know what you think. 

Want to share your favorite music from 2020? Comment below or email me at rlmerrillauthor@gmail.com. The next Ro’s Recs will be less of a “best of” and more of a “here’s what you don’t want to miss.” I’ll see you soon, my HorrorAddict Darlings. In the meantime, Stay Tuned for more Merrill’s Musical Musings…

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R.L. Merrill writes inclusive romance with quirky, relatable characters full of love, hope, and rock ‘n’ roll. You can find her at https://www.rlmerrillauthor.com and on the socials as @rlmerrillauthor. You can also find her Hope, Love, and Queeromance posts over at www.queeromanceink.com

Book Review: Unsafe Words by Loren Rhoads

Review by Daphne Stasert

Content Warnings: Drug Use, Sex, Violence, Death, Suicide, Slavery, Assisted Suicide, Homophobia, Sex Work

With Unsafe Words, Loren Rhoads presents probably the most diverse set of stories that I’ve yet reviewed. Unsafe Words is not a collection of strictly horror, but explores fantasy and science fiction as well. Throughout, however, runs a thread of unease. Rhoads explores the darker sides of all her subjects. Regardless of whether the tales are set in a world of advanced technology, magic, aliens, or bad drug trips, Unsafe Words doesn’t flinch away from her examination of the human condition.

Drugs, sex, and music feature prominently throughout the stories. Frequently, they weave together. Drugs tint character reliability, blurring the line between reality and hallucination. Characters use drugs to escape their situation, to enhance it, and simply to exist. Rhoads attaches no value judgement to the use, but uses it to enrich the stories. Sex, in all its trappings, is a strong taboo for most readers. But Rhoads doesn’t shy from its use. Sex is good, it’s bad, it’s a fact of life for her characters. It’s a means to an end or an end all its own.  Music is a driving force, akin to hypnotism, drugs, or religion. Music washes over the characters like a drug high. It transcends their motivations. Characters are willing to die for music, kill for it.

Drugs, sex, and music may be the vehicle, but many of Rhoads’s stories primarily deal with the concept of love—new, mature, and dying. When does infatuation cross from curiosity to devotion? What would you do for someone that you love? Who or what would you betray? What do you do when grief runs out and turns instead to exhaustion and despair?

These stories are uncomfortable at times, but they’re meant to be that way. They force the reader to explore their own values and assumptions about the human condition. Even within the horror narratives, terror takes a backseat to introspection.

Rhoads revisits tired tropes through a new lens. New worlds and ideas turn familiar stories on their heads. She seamlessly includes science fiction and fantasy world building to freshen up stories. These worlds don’t take over the story, but serve as a unique backdrop.

If I have one complaint about Unsafe Words, it is simply that some of the stories are too short. Rhoads creates complex, immersive worlds that are busting with stories, but only explores a tiny portion of them, sometimes cutting off the story before it really even gets started. So many of these could be expanded into full novels and I hope that Rhoads takes that step in the future.

If you have a wide range of stories with excellent writing, you’ll enjoy Unsafe Words by Loren Rhoads.

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: Anything for Jackson

In the early morning hours of Jan 2nd 2021, Crystal Connor, finally settled into her sleeping bag on the couch with snacks within reach and picked up her remote. The footage you are about to see chronicles the harrowing experience that her neighbors endured for hours as she screamed, cried, and shouted expletive obscenities at her television as she watched:

Anything for Jackson 

Plotline: Satanist couple kidnap a pregnant woman so they can use an ancient spellbook to put their dead grandson’s spirit into her unborn child but end up summoning more than they bargained for.

Who would like it: Fan of the occult, possessions, creature features, ppl who love monsters, and everybody who loves endings that keep you guessing

High Points: The strong storyline and original plot

Complaints: I don’t have any!

Overall: I super loved this movie!

Stars: 5

Where I watched it: Shudder

 

Asian Horror Month: Book Review/REVENGE by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese)

Book Review – REVENGE by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese)

(English translation by Stephen Snyder)

Review by Renata Parvey

Yoko Ogawa is one of my favorite contemporary writers, and I love how her writing covers a range of genres, all brilliant works in their own way. Revenge is a peculiar book, written in the form of short stories, where each story connects to another – in no particular order – culminating into a larger tale somewhere down the line. More recently, Jane Borges’ Bombay Balchao was another book written in the experimental fiction format – a collection of seemingly unrelated short stories woven together to form a novel. Both Ogawa and Borges are a pure delight to readers with their literary prowess in taking writing – and reading – to a different level.

Coming back to Revenge, it can be termed as a series of dark tales, with sinister elements binding them to one another. The protagonist of one story can be a minor character in another, at times not even named – leaving the reader to decipher who we are reading about, what role they play in each story, are they even connected or does the reader feel so because we assume the stories are strung together. The eerie world created by Ogawa moves across generations, time spans, places – past, present, future, the real world and the supernatural, fact and fantasy all drawn in as well as apart from each other.

An aspiring writer, a murderous landlady, an obsessed bag maker, a singer, a surgeon, a Bengal tiger, a mother, strawberry cake – crossing paths and converging their fates in this dark web of vengefulness. Ogawa can be emotional and unsettling, impassive and heartbreaking, creepy and gentle. Her macabre take on relationships and emotions make this book effectively terrifying. Revenge is not horror in the traditional sense. A passenger train, a bakery, home gardening – the fact that her settings are so bland ups the ante of the terrors that lurk within. Ogawa’s writing can transform a normal scene next door to something downright horrifying – nothing seems out of the ordinary, and you can’t tell when and how the horror crept up on you. The best part is connecting the stories, navigating clues as you wander in this strange world.

Of course, Ogawa’s frequent English translation collaborator Stephen Snyder deserves as much of credit as the writer herself, for marvelously bringing life to her stories. Revenge is a disturbing collection for those who revel in the written word and the beauty she creates with literature.

My rating – 5/5 

Renata Pavrey ~ December 2020

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Renata Parvey is a Nutritionist by profession; marathon runner and Odissi dancer by passion. Driven by sports, music, animals, plants, literature and more. Reads across several genres and languages, and loves the world of horror – in both, books and movies.

Asian Horror Month: Lily Wong Books by Tori Eldridge

Review: Lily Wong Books by Tori Eldridge

If you think a ninja’s life is all about throwing stars and black pajamas, think again. For Chinese-Norwegian born Lily Wong, it’s a mixed bag of fighting domestic abuse, family dynamics and this little issue with the Los Angeles Ukrainian mob. No big deal.

Lily Wong is a heroine for modern times. Gutsy, humorous and bad*ss, she takes on injustice wherever she finds it, using her skills to defend women against those who would enslave them. Loads of action will keep readers turning pages faster than Lily can break a knee cap. There’s even a little romance thrown in to round out the story.

There’s more to Lily than martial arts, however. Author Tori Eldridge brings personal struggles to the table as Lily faces issues of being mixed race, loss of a loved one and how to preserve non-traditional values with a domineering grandmother. Despite her prowess with martial arts, Lily is far from being an inaccessible character. Flawed and conflicted, she’s easy to identify with.

I enjoyed being exposed to new concepts like the kunoichi, a female ninja. Unafraid to touch the hard topics of racism and human trafficking, Eldridge doesn’t disappoint in the second book of her series, The Ninja’s Blade. Lily will go to any means to protect those who would otherwise be victimized. If you are looking for a fast-paced action read with plenty of social value, Tori Eldrige’s Lily Wong series will not disappoint.

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Tori Eldridge is the bestselling author of The Ninja’s Blade and The Ninja Daughter (Lily Wong series), nominated for the Anthony, Lefty, and Macavity Awards for Best First Novel and named one of the “Best Mystery Books of the Year” by The South Florida Sun Sentinel and awarded 2019 Thriller Book of the Year by Authors on the Air Global Radio Network. Her short stories have been published in horror, dystopian, and other literary anthologies, and her narrative poem appears in the inaugural reboot of Weird Tales magazine. Tori’s screenplay The Gift earned a semi-finalist spot for the Academy Nicholl Fellowship.

Before writing, Tori performed as an actress, singer, dancer on Broadway, television, and film. She is of Hawaiian, Chinese, Norwegian descent and was born and raised in Honolulu where she graduated from Punahou School with classmate Barack Obama. Tori holds a fifth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do ninjutsu and has traveled the USA teaching seminars on the ninja arts, weapons, and women’s self-protection. Look for the third book in the Lily Wong series in September 2021.

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About Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith is an American poet, publisher, and author with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism. She co-publishes Space and Time magazine with author husband Ryan Aussie Smith. For more information visit SpaceandTime.net

Odds and Dead Ends: The Bloody Brilliance of Lady Snowblood (1973)

Article by Kieran Judge

Japan is not known for holding back when it comes to throwing around buckets of blood on screen. Not just limited to horror, the country’s samurai and revenge films are some of the bloodiest on record, and because there are often swords involved, it’s not just limited to splashes of red from bullet-wounds either. Lady Snowblood (Toshya Fujita) is a perfect example of this, featuring copious amounts of the red stuff gushing in geysers from slashes and stabs. But the film is much more than just a blood-fest, and is an interesting window onto Japanese society in the beginning of the Meiji Era, when the country was beginning to examine western ideas, moving from the feudalistic, pre-industrial country of old, into a nation that had changed almost indescribably by the era’s end.

            The story is one that has been told times before. Yuki, born in the first years of the Meiji Era (I believe 1873, give or take a year, according to my rough estimations), is raised to be an assassin who will one day track down her mother’s four abusers. The film follows the now named ‘Lady Snowblood’, as she follows the four trails, taking out each one in turn, until the final bloody climax. Based off a manga of the same name, it spawned a sequel, a spinoff, and had its legacy largely cemented in western culture when Quentin Tarantino used it as primary inspiration for Kill Bill (2003). It’s a kind of narrative we’re still seeing today, with a female assassin raised from birth for the sole purpose of murder, and anyone who hasn’t seen the stylish 2017 film The Villainess (Jung Byung-gil, South Korea), which in turn was inspired by the Luc Besson film La Femme Nikita (France, 1990), would do well to check it out for a fun, modern example of the narrative.

            Lady Snowblood has enough filmmaking technique going for it to make it a good watch on its own, and attention to the use of colour as part of its thematic expression is just part of it. Red is obviously a large feature in the film, and not just because of the severed hands and blood-splattered faces. After several flashbacks to Yuki’s birth, red light spills into the night, colouring the snow crimson. The women in the prison at her birth are all dressed in red, the floor of the palace in the finale is red, the kimono of the daughter of one of her targets is red; the symbolism is obvious. She is born to blood, which is said as much “poor child, you were born to vengeance”, and it is in red where the story ends. She can never escape it.

            It’s also no coincidence for her to take the name Snowblood, as the translation for ‘yuki’ is ‘snow’ (according to Google), a name given to her by her mother, just before passing after giving birth, after looking outside to the falling snow. Indeed, the purity of the colour white contrasts with the blood in many scenes. Our introduction to ‘present-day’ Yuki takes place in the snow, which ends in a violent bloodbath, and the film ends in the snow also. Yuki also wears a white kimono for much of the film, which, when contrasted with a red sash, demonstrates her attire as a reflection of herself. A pure woman forever destined to spill blood, for no other reason than that is what she was born to do. It might also reflect the death of her mother’s husband, whom the group killed before abducting her mother, who was wearing a white suit at the time.

            Perhaps of most interest from a cultural point of view, however, is how the film examines the growing western influence in the country in relation to the antagonists, especially Gishirō. Both he and Okono (two of the four being hunted) use pistols, the only two characters to do so. Okono’s policemen, which she uses to try and stop Yuki, are dressed in a western-inspired uniform, with gold buttons and shiny billed caps. Her relative rank and influence is coming as a direct response to assimilation of western technology and culture, whereas Yuki carries a parasol, dresses in a kimono, and uses a katana, as she has done all her life, all seen as traditional icons of Japan’s history.

            As mentioned before, Yuki’s ‘father’ was wearing a suit when killed. The film explains that government officials wore white when visiting the towns to draft young men for the war effort, and so the four villains of the story were running a scam to say that young men would escape the draft by paying them (they would then promptly vanish with the money). This plays into an excuse to rob and kill Yuki’s ‘father’, as a result of paranoia and hatred of men dressed in white. But, that he was wearing a suit specifically shows that the new era of exposure to western influences can unstable a nation’s people. A symbol of western society, it is seen as inherently threatening to a traditional way of life. By getting rid of someone dressed in attire of the world beyond their borders, which had been closed off for so long, the four align themselves as friends of the people, helping to persuade them to take up their scam. Thus their hypocrisy deepens as they themselves adopt similar dress in the later segments of the film. They will align themselves with anyone who help to further their own rank and influence.

            The finale at the masquerade ball is also interesting, as it is set up for dignitaries from all over the globe. From the ceiling are hung flags from countries all across the world, from the UK to Belgium to Greece, and Japan’s white flag and red circle is not exactly hung right in the middle of the room. The chandelier is definitely in the style of an aristocratic European mansion, some of the guests speak English, and once again, Yuki is attacked with a pistol. Yuki must go into this new world, still upholding a tradition of the past, straddling the strange, mixed ‘netherworld’, to accomplish her mission. That the villain’s final plunge from the balcony causes him to fall into, and drag down, the Japanese flag, is perfectly apt. Draped in the colours of white and red (just like Yuki herself), Japan’s past has taken revenge for exploiting the incoming influence of the West for personal, nefarious gain, and not for the unilateral gain of all.

            Thus, not only is Lady Snowblood very entertaining, stylish, and well shot, but is very much a story which could only be told about this country and about this period of its history. Through the bodily dismemberments and fountains of blood is a reflection of a nation’s exposure to radical change, and the chaos that this can bring about when some seek to exploit it for ill-gain. If horror fans are looking for a little change of pace to their usual demonic possessions and serial killings, this bloody tale of revenge should certainly be sought out and savoured.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: kjudgemental

Merrill’s Musical Musings: Dissonance

Greetings HorrorAddicts. This month we’re listening to the Dark Wave artist Dissonance. Cat Hall has a new maxi-single that’s perfect for fans of bands like GARBAGE, NINE INCH NAILS & INFORMATION SOCIETY. Precipice is a techno-moody piece that is very personal to Hall. Music helps us heal from the tragedies in our lives, and for Hall, it’s been a form of catharsis. After a serious health battle, she’s come out on the other side to share her emotional experience in these three pieces. With remixes by Joe Haze, Diverje, Junior Kain, and Machines with Human Skin all add layers to the composition. Reminiscent of Tubular Bells or early Depeche Mode, Precipice is music to sit with and contemplate. Each element woven together, whether it be effects or harmonies, all evoke feelings of loss and yet are ultimately hopeful. 

Thank you for joining me this month. I hope you and yours are well. I’d love to hear what kind of music is getting you through this tumultuous time. If you want to hear what I’ve been listening to, you can check out my #SpotifyWrapped. If you’re not on Spotify yet, you might want to change that in 2021. Getting a report on your listening habits can be…creepy, but also a great trip down memory lane. Stay Tuned for more Ro’s Recs and Merrill’s Musical Musings… 

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R.L. Merrill writes inclusive romance with quirky, relatable characters full of love, hope, and rock ‘n’ roll. You can find her at https://www.rlmerrillauthor.com and on the socials as @rlmerrillauthor. You can also find her at www.queeromanceink.com writing about Hope, Love and Queeromance. 

Asian Horror Month: BLACK CRANES : A Review in Verse

 

BLACK CRANES: A REVIEW IN VERSE

Tales of Unquiet Women

From voices no longer silent

In this anthology of Asian narratives

Ranging from hilarious, to haunting and violent

A frisson towards an immersive journey

Headlined by Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn

Not merely stories, but an assemblage of shared experiences

And teamwork presented by Omnium Gatherum

Alma Katsu leads the proceedings

Of what follows and what to expect

Asian, women, and horror

Tales of identity, expectation and neglect;

Obligations, traditions, duties and more

Scientists, warriors, princesses, spirits

We can be many things

But we cannot be defeated

A haunting foreword sets the tone

For Elaine Cuyegkeng to kick off with a bang

Pandora’s box of gene editing

Or more attuned to a boomerang;

Snipping out traits and replacing preferential ones

Rarefied offspring too good to be true?

There’s always a price to pay

Specimens or daughters? Are we a ‘what’ or ‘who’?

Nadia Bulkin marshals an uprising 

With Indonesian history and folklore

A princess’s people retrieving her throne

A fight and reclamation at its core;

Who is monster and who is human?

Questions Kapre in his chronicle

Rin Chupeco’s unique love story

Depicts a tale heartwarming and ironical

Beauty, cosmetics, enhancements galore

Two tales from Angela Yuriko Smith

How far would you go to be yourself no more?

Sci-fi abounds; this isn’t myth

White on the outside, yellow within

Patchwork eyes and warring factions all over

Whom do we belong to if we don’t belong at all?

Gift recipient or pushover?

Grace Chan makes a two-fold mark

With hunger and fury, suspicion and doubt

Gabriella Lee’s rites of passage

Aspects of womanhood poured out;

The legend of the nine-tailed fox

Of trickster entities and lotus feet

Rena Mason presents womanhood again

As past, present and future accrete

Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn

In their dual roles of editor and writer

Lend duality with contrasting themes

From heartbreak to horror, and lighter;

Caring for an ailing parent,

A mind-blowing take on pets,

A litmus test of acceptance,

Words – their shining assets

Set the clock ahead with Christina Sng

As we time travel to a zombie apocalypse

An ode to women in the military

Fury is not one to be eclipsed;

The fury of sacrifices to accommodate 

Meeting the expectations of others

Hollowed versions of ourselves

Emptied out; unconsidered druthers

With stories of folklore and legend

From the common to the esoteric

Across geography and culture

From charming to barbaric;

Returning to one’s roots

Or imagining a far-fetched world

From the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore

China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand;

Asian women from wherever they might be 

Scattered across place and time

Breaking notions and stereotypes

That living is not a crime;

There’s no single type of woman

No all-encompassing concept of Asian

The multifaceted identities of horror

And the stories of women who experience their own versions.

                                      ~Renata Pavrey

                                        December 2020

Ranata Pavrey is a Nutritionist by profession; marathon runner and Odissi dancer by passion. Driven by sports, music, animals, plants, literature and more. She reads across several genres and languages, and loves the world of horror – in both, books and movies.

 

Live Action Reviews! By Crystal Connor: May The Devil Take You, Too.

At 3:37 am on November 8th 2020, Crystal Connor, finally settled into her sleeping bag on the couch with snacks within reach and picked up her remote. The footage you are about to see chronicles the harrowing experience that her neighbors endured for hours as she screamed, cried, and shouted expletive obscenities at her television as she watched: May The Devil Take You, Too!

Viewer discretion Advised

Plotline: Two years after escaping from a demonic terror, Alfie and Nara try to continue their lives, but Alfie is still haunted by feelings of guilt and unnatural visions.

Who would like it: Everyone who loved the 1st movie, fans of occult films, possessions, gore hounds, Fx fans, and international horror movies

High Points:This was a really good sequel with a original story line from the 1st.

Complaints: None!

Overall: Love it…better than the 1st

Stars: 5

Where I watched it: Shudder

Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains.  Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.

When she’s not reviewing indie horror and science fiction films for HorrorAddicts she’s terrorizing her fans with new written horrors and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences.

Historian of Horror: For Freaky Foodies Month / Food, Goriest Food

Food, Goriest Food!

They tell me this is Freaky Foodie Month here at HorrorAddicts.net, so I’ve wandered down into the kitchen area of the basement laboratory and cobbled together a tasty little treat that I hope will satisfy the palate of even the most discriminating connoisseur de frissons. And yes, there will be dessert. I call this offering: 

Submitted for Your Approval – A Man with No Upper Lip

Rod Serling got his start as a writer by winning a radio contest, after spending a few years in the Pacific Theater jumping out of airplanes in order to expedite the extermination of Japanese soldiers. He gradually worked his way up to the new medium of television in time for what is considered its Golden Age, a period when every evening brought Great Dramas into the homes of millions of Americans. Serling wrote his fair share of those Great Dramas, including Patterns and Requiem for a Heavyweight. Both were later made into movies and are considered high points of that Golden Age.

This was all heady stuff for a decorated war veteran and one of early television’s cadre of angry young men, but Serling wanted more. He yearned for a vessel into which he could pour his social concerns about censorship, racism, and war, and maybe exorcise the psychological demons left over from his military service. Alas, comfortable and complacent Middle America wasn’t ready to have its collective face shoved into its sins, and so a more allegorical approach was called for. 

The Twilight Zone premiered on October 2, 1959. For five years, Serling, along with collaborators Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, created a series of little morality plays couched in the more palatable tropes of science fiction, fantasy, and horror tales. And then, it was gone, cancelled by the suits, only to reappear in the realm of perpetual syndication, where it lives on even today. Sixties television devolved into an endless parade of sitcoms, many of them with a supernatural bent; westerns; shoot-em-up action dramas; variety shows; spoofs of comic books and spy movies; and body counts from the Vietnam War on the evening news.

Like the War, the Sixties slopped over into the next decade. Popular music continued on much as before, not yet sullied by the arrival of disco. The usual array of genres persisted on television. And the news was still just as depressing as ever. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Serling spent the second half of the Sixties much as he had the Fifties, writing dramas for a medium that had turned out to be too small for him. He wrote a successful teleplay about an airline high-jacking, and an adaptation of A Christmas Carol that was as weighted towards modern concerns as the original story was towards the social ills of the Victorian Era. He created a high-brow western series called The Loner that only lasted one season, and lent his distinctive voice and stiff-upper-lip visage to a number of commercials. 

At the end of the decade, he came up with a made-for-TV movie superficially similar to his last great success. Night Gallery was an anthology of three spooky stories, more horror-based than Twilight Zone ever was. Serling introduced each tale by revealing a painting inspired by it. Hence, the ‘gallery’ part of the title. The middle section, Eyes, starring Joan Crawford, was directed by Steven Spielberg. It was his first professional media job, and very nearly her last. Her final performance came a few years later in Night Gallery’s spin-off series, The Sixth Sense. More on that, and her, and him later in this space. Stay tuned!

Night Gallery was picked up for regular broadcast in 1971, one of a set of four titles that rotated weekly episodes as part of what was called a wheel series. The other show that survived Four in One’s only season was the fish-out-of-water detective show McCloud, starring Dennis Weaver. McCloud moved over into another wheel series with two other long-running mysteries, Columbo and McMillan and Wife. Night Gallery went into regular production as a weekly program. Win for Serling! 

But not quite as much as before. More of the same, but less, I’m afraid. This is not to say that Night Gallery wasn’t a good program; it was. It just wasn’t The Twilight Zone. But then, what was? Not even a major motion picture and a couple of revival series have been able to recapture that particular lightning-bolt-in-a-bottle. 

It might have helped had Serling been able to exert more creative control than he was allowed, but that was not to be. Still, Night Gallery is not a series to be brushed aside without due consideration. It adapted some of the great stories in the genre, including works by H.P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, Fritz Leiber, Algernon Blackwood and Robert Bloch, and by Serling’s old pal from Twilight Zone days, Richard Matheson. 

Christianna Brand is not a name well-known to horror enthusiasts, I suspect. She was a mystery writer of some renown, but she only wrote enough horror tales to fill one collection, What Dread Hand?, published in 1968. One of the yarns therein, ‘The Sins of the Fathers’, first appeared, as far as I have been able to ascertain, in The Fifth Pan Book of Horror Stories. It was edited by Herbert van Thal four years previously. If you’re not familiar with this delightful series of anthologies, I urge you to haunt whatever used paperback vendors you have available to you and track down as many editions as you can get your talons into. I shall have more to say later on regarding the estimable Mijnheer van Thal, but for now, the dish upon the table is getting cold. And a little, um, congealed. 

Mangiamo!

Sin eating is an old practice found in Wales and those English counties bordering Wales, in which a poor person would be hired for a nominal sum to dine upon bread and ale placed atop the corpse of a recently deceased sinner as it lay in state. The sins of the late reprobate would transfer, through the bread and ale, to the soul of the diner, preventing the lamented one from wandering the Earth as a vengeful spirit. The question remains, what of the sins of the sin eater, both original, and those acquired through gustation? What keeps that worthy in his grave? Therein lies the tale.

‘Sins of the Father’ was one of two stories presented in the second episode of Night Gallery’s second season, airing on February 23, 1972. It starred, among others, Barbara Steele, she of the vast, magnetizing eyes long familiar to horror aficionados from her performances in such classic terror films as Black Sunday, The Pit and the Pendulum and The Ghost. Frequent Oscar nominee and future winner Geraldine Page was along for the bumpy ride, as well, along with soon-to-be John-Boy Walton Richard Thomas, former Batman butler Alan Napier, and Michael Dunn, who had just recently completed a long run as master villain Dr. Miguelito Loveless on the classic spy-western show, The Wild Wild West.

Dunn scours the Welsh countryside on half of his master, who lies three days dead, covered in a feast of lamb and cakes and cheeses. The servant is in search of a sin eater, one who has not already succumbed to the plague and famine ravaging the land. With time running out, he finds his last option too sick with disease and hunger to travel the distance, but that sin eater has a son. The boy absconds with the food without taking on the sins of the dead man, but when he returns home, finds his own father dead. Where are that sin eater’s sins to go, but into the starving mouth of the next one in line?

Not so horrifying in the brief description, perhaps, but like any fine meal, there’s so much more in the presentation. Even better, every name mentioned above has a genre pedigree that dates back, in some cases, into the silent era. Lots of material for future installments. 

I did mention dessert, yes? Well, Stanley Ellin is another mystery writer of historical significance who dabbled in the macabre. His first published short story, ‘Specialty of the House’, is one of those that really sticks to the ribs, so to speak. A restaurant that caters to a very particular clientele offers an occasional specialty that only the best customers get to sample, or participate in the preparation thereof. Creepiness is on the menu, served with healthy dollop of frisson on the side.

‘Specialty of the House’ has been reprinted in dozens of periodicals, collections and anthologies since it was first published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, in the May, 1948 issue. It was adapted to television during the fifth season of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents show and broadcast on December 13, 1959, and on the revival of that series on March 21, 1987. Robert Morley, whose turn upon the spit in Theatre of Blood also involves food, stars. That classic film deserves its own lengthy consideration, rather than a superficial glossing over here, so more on that later.

The first one is available for viewing here:

In the early Seventies, Vincent Price was among several stars who were part of an attempted revival of old-time radio in the modern era. His BBC program, The Price of Fear, featured an adaptation of the yarn on April 13th, 1974. It can be found on You Tube or in the Internet Archives. Worth seeking out!

So, there it is. Hope you enjoyed my little concoction. Would you like an aperitif? A little libation to wash it all down with? Don’t worry, there will be more coming, perhaps sooner than you think. Stay blood-thirsty, my friends. And, as always –

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Book Review: LeRoux Manor by Liz Butcher

I was drawn to LeRoux Manor by Liz Butcher with the promises of a spooky old house and possibly some ghosts. What I found was a spooky YA Thriller with so many different types of paranormal activity, I didn’t really know what was going on until the last moment and even now, I still have questions. Perhaps there will be a sequel. 

Camille is an Aussie teenager whose parents move her to their ancestral home in England during her most formative high school years. A bit of culture shock isn’t the biggest thing for her to deal with when it seems she’s moved into a haunted house. If not haunted, it does have some secrets to tell. 

LeRoux Manor is a legend in her new town, mostly known for a dinner party that went awry years ago. With the help of some new school friends and a crush named Lachlan, Camille pieces together parts of a puzzle in search of answers as to why her family wanted her parents to give her away and why she shares the birthday of an old ancestor who went missing and has never been found.

While reading, I did find myself wondering if Camille was crazy. Was she just imagining things, or was the house actually making her see things that weren’t there? Who is the woman in the woods she spies from her bedroom window? Why did Lachlan’s Uncle disappear after visiting the estate? What exactly is that weird being reaching out of the large wardrobe in her bedroom? Who’s the little kid skittering around the attic?

This book reads very YA, but for those of you who adore spooky houses like I do, you might not mind. For fans of The Haunting, The Woman in Black, and The Haunting of Bly Manor, you’ll be thrilled with spooky middle of the night snooping, phantom earthquakes, and creepy servants lurking about. With jump scares that would be more at home on film, I was only mildly caught off-guard in the beginning, but as the teen’s experience more and more strange occurrences on an all-night fear-fest, their fear becomes contagious like the scare you might have experienced at camp when someone told a ghost story around the campfire. 

Freaky Foodies: from Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: Cannibals vs Cannibals

Plotline: Somos Lo Que Hay vs. We Are What We are 

Who would like it: The people who would like both movies fans of Coming of Age stories, Zombies, Twisted Families and gore hounds. 

High Points:  —

Complaints:  —

Overall: Preferred Somos Lo Que Hay over the remake We Are What We are 

Stars: No Rating 

Where I watched it: VOD

 

***

Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains.  Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.

When she’s not terrorizing her fans and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences she reviews indie horror and science fiction films for both her personal blog and HorrorAddicts.net

She is also considering changing her professional title to dramatization specialist because it so much more theatrical than being a mere drama queen.

http://wordsmithcrystalconnor.com

http://www.facebook.com/notesfromtheauthor

Download your free copy of …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! from Podiobooks.com and see why the name Crystal Connor has become “A Trusted Name in Terror!” 

http://podiobooks.com/title/and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Strain Season 2 and 3

Real World Trauma Acerbates the flaws in The Strain Seasons Two and Three

by Kristin Battestella

After an unraveling end to the First Season of The Strain, it took me a long, long while to return to the thirteen-episode 2015 Second Season. Childhood flashbacks recounting fairy tales of nobles with gigantism and quests for the curing blood of a gray wolf start the year off well. Horrific blood exchanges lead to village children vanishing in the shadow of the creepy castle before we return to the present for secret deals with The Master, alliances with the Ancient Ones, and blind telepathic feeler vampires canvassing the city. Scientists Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) contemplate vampire vaccines while former antique dealer Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) pursues a rare strigoi text and rat catcher Fet (Kevin Durand) prepares their explosive defensive. Government officials like Justine Feraldo (Samantha Mathis) fight back against the zombie like masses despite shootouts in infested laboratories, double-crosses, and sentient, disguised as human foot soldiers. Old fashioned black and white Mexican horror reels add personality and history to our reluctant heroes while more superb action and flashbacks standout late in the season with “The Assassin” and “Dead End.” Unfortunately, early on in Year Two, my main dilemma with the First Season of The Strain returnedyou can read all of this, but it is much too much onscreen. Unnecessary timestamps and location notations clutter reintroduced characters, new problems, old problems, and unintroduced newcomers. There are too many separated characters with unbalanced screen time who must repeatedly explain who they are. Enemy’s enemy is my friend mixed motivations create confusion – multiple people hunting The Master individually making promises to his fellow ancient vampires with little background on who these chained monsters chilling beneath Brooklyn are. Cryptic double talk and real estate transactions may be filler or meandering developments, but it’s a toss up on which one will drag on or disappear. The past stories are often more tantalizing because our team isn’t much of a team. It took so long in the First Year to get everyone together, yet each is still toiling over what to do in this vampire zombie apocalypse. After previous fears over any tiny contagion, one and all shoot, blast, slice, and splatter at will. They hand out fliers with the monster details and warn the community, yet unaware police are shocked to find vampires in a dark alley.

Maybe The Strain is meant to mirror how no one is on the same page in a crisis – we are now witnessing that chaotic misinformation mistake first hand indeed – but the plot is all over the place, too. It’s been a few weeks onscreen since The Strain began, however, life is upside down for some while others seem totally unbothered. Again, this is a foreboding parallel to our real life pandemic with the poor working man much more deeply impacted than the wealthy ease of access, but here there’s no sense of the storytelling scope despite opportunistic orchestrations and tough women securing the five boroughs. Slick villains talk of great visions and master plans, but tangents diverge into a dozen different threads and multiple dead ends. Is The Strain about a doctor experimenting on the infected to test scientific theories or weird do nothing telepathic vampires and slow strigoi chases? Are we to enjoy the precious moments between our little people struggling on the ground or awe at the zombie outbreak turned vampire mythology? New people and places are constantly on the move, jumbled by an aimless, plodding pace as too little too late politicians talk about quarantines when The Strain is past containment. Confusing, pointless storylines take away from important intrigues and significant elements tread tires amid random threats and dropped crises. The conflicts on cruel science for the greater good grow hollow thanks to constant interruptions and changed emotions. Provocative diluted worm extracts taken for illness or ailments are used as control by the strigoi or when necessary for our heroes, but the scientific analysis of such a tonic or hybrid cases is never considered. Infecting the infected experiments and vampire free island security only take a few episodes, yet viewers today who can’t pay the rent are expected to believe it takes weeks for a market free fall and runs on banks? “The Born” starts off great, but often there’s no going back to what happens next regarding cures and Roman history as contrived messy or blasé action pads episodes. Rather than driving away in a cop car, dumbed down characters run into a church for a lagging, maze-like battle that kills an interesting minority character. When the community comes together for “The Battle for Red Hook,” unnecessary family pursuits ruin the sense of immediacy while the hop, skip, and jump to Washington D.C. for two episodes of scientific effort gets ditched for glossed over vampire factions and historic relics. Both the lore and science are interesting, but these mashed together entities compete for time as if we’re changing the channels and watching two shows at once. Instead of the rich detail we crave, The Strain continually returns to its weakest plot with shit actions and stupid players causing absurd consequences.

The Strain, however, does look good, and the ten episode Third Season provides coffins, gore, goo, and nasty bloodsucking appendages. The vampire makeup, creepy eyes, monster sinews, and icky skin are well done. Occasionally, creatures scaling the wall and speedy, en masse action is noticeable CGI, but the worms, tentacles, and splatter upset the body sacred. Sickly green lighting invokes the zombie plague mood while choice red adds vampire touches alongside silver grenades, ultraviolet light, and ancient texts. Sadly, Season Three opens with an unrealistic announcement that it’s only been twenty-three days since the outbreak started. The uneven pace makes such time impossible to believe, and tricked out infrared military are just now arriving three weeks into the disaster. Mass manufacture of The Strain’s bio-weapon is also never mentioned again as the science is now nothing more than a home chemistry set. Instead, step by step time is taken to siphon gas in a dark, dangerous parking garage – which could be realistic except The Strain has never otherwise addressed food, supplies, precious toilet paper, or the magically unlimited amount of silver bullets. Once again, everyone who fought together goes on to separate allegiances on top of hear tell global spread, Nazi parallels, control centers, and messianic symbolism. It’s all too clunky thanks to people made stupid and contradictions between the onscreen myths, technology, and abilities. Too many convenient infections, Master transformations, tacked on worms, and excuses happen at once – cheapening Shakespearean touches and monster worm bombs with redundant failures. Montages wax on human history while voiceovers tell audiences about government collapse, glossing over arguably the most interesting part of the catastrophe for drawn-out experiments on microwaves. There’s no narrative flow as the episodes run out but suddenly everyone is sober enough to use the ancient guidebook to their advantage. After such insistence over sunlight and ultraviolet, those safeguards are inexplicably absent when needed. No one maximizes resources and opportunities in “Battle for Central Park,” and people only come together because they accidentally bump into each other. In “The Fall,” a carefully orchestrated trap and prison plan is finally put into action against The Master, but ridiculous contrivances stall the operation before easy outs and one little effing asshole moron ruining it all. Again.

The cast is not at fault for the uneven developments on The Strain, but if Ephraim Goodweather is only there to be a drunken bad parent failing at every turn, he should have been written off the show. If we’re sticking with Eph and his angst before science, then his pointless strigoi wife and terrible son Zach should have been tossed instead of hogging the screen. Cranky, obnoxious, budding sociopath Zach’s “Why? No! Don’t!” lack of comprehension is unrealistic for his age, and everything has to be dumbed downed to appease him.  Onscreen The Strain is continually talking down to viewers like we are five and it gets old very fast. Previously compassionate characters are reset as cold marksmen, and Eph claims he no longer cares about the cause when he was once at its epicenter. He complains he has nothing to do, bemoaning the lack of a feasible vaccine before gaining government support in creating a strigoi bio-weapon only to ditch it for microwaves and vampire telepathy. Zach ruins each plan anyway, and by the end of Season Two, I was fast forwarding over the Goodweather family plots. Nora Martinez is also nonexistent as a doctor unless convenient, relegated instead to babysitting, and Samantha Mathis’ (Little Women) Justine Feraldo likewise starts off brassy before unnecessarily overplaying her hand and failing bitterly because of others. Initially The Strain had such a diverse ensemble, but by the end of the Third Season, all the worst things have happened to the women and minorities. Ruta Gedmintas’ Dutch wavers from the cause for a conflicted lesbian romance that disappears before she returns to the fold as Eph’s tantalizing research assistant when she’s not being captured and rescued. I won’t lie, I only hung on watching The Strain as long as I did for Rupert Penry-Jones (MI-5) as the thousand year old hybrid Quinlan. He uses his conflicted history with The Master to help Setrakian and sees through Ephraim while developing a distrustful shoulder to shoulder with Fet. Unfortunately, his vampire super powers come in handy unless he’s forgotten about when it’s time for the action to sour or let failures happen, and nobody tells officials about this almost invincible half-strigoi who could be useful in a fight. Setrakian, Quinlan, and Fet make for an ornery, begrudging trio, living in a luxury hotel while pursuing Abraham’s relics whether they agree with the plan or not – mostly because Fet accrues all manor of weapons and is happy to use them. Setrakian has some crusty wisdom for them, but his battle of wits with Jonathan Hyde as the at any price Palmer provides great one on one scene chewing. The double crosses and interchangeable threats feel empty, and Palmer also has an odd romantic side plot that wastes time, but Richard Sammel’s Nazi vampire Eicchorst remains a deliciously twisted minion. “Dead End” and “Do or Die” reveal more personal history as the mature players provide intriguing questions on immortality, humanity, and barbarism. Miguel Gomez’ Gus finally seems like he is going to join the team, but then he’s inexplicably back on his own rescuing families and refusing to accept his mother’s turn in more useless filler. He and Joaquin Cosio (Quantum of Solace) as the absolutely underutilized fifties superhero Angel are conscripted to fight vampires but once again, they remain wasted in isolated, contrived detours.

Streamlining Fet, Dutch, Quinlan, and Gus as vampire fighters testing methods from Setrakian’s texts and Eph’s science funded by Feraldo could have unified The Strain with straightforward heroes versus monsters action we can root for in an apocalypse. Watching on the eve of our own real world pandemic, was I in the right frame of mind to view The Strain unclouded? Thanks to creators Guillermo de Toro and Chuck Hogan and showrunner Carlton Cuse’s foretelling social breakdowns between the haves and the have nots, maybe not. That said, The Strain terribly executes two seasons worth of source material. An embarrassment of riches with a scientific premise, mystical flashbacks, assorted zombie and vampire crossover monsters, and intriguing characters fall prey to uneven pacing, crowded focus, and no balance or self-awareness onscreen. The Strain may have been better served as television movies or six episode elemental seasons – science in year one, vampire history the second, relic pursuits, and a final battle. Disastrous characters and worthless stories compromise the meaty sacrifices, crusty old alliances, and silver standoffs – stretching the horror quality thin even in a shorter ten episode season. Rather than a fulfilling mirror to nature parable, The Strain Seasons Two and Three are an exercise in frustration, and even without the real world horrors, it’s too disappointing to bother with the end of the world reset in Season Four.

For More Frightening Television or more Guillermo del Toro, Re-visit:

All Things Dracula Video Review

Top Horror Television

Crimson Peak

 

Latinx Month – FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Mexican and Spanish Vampires!

Mexican and Spanish Vampires, Oh My!  By Kristin Battestella

The Bloody Vampire– The English version of this black and white 1962 Mexican import El Vampire Sangriento opens with eerie slow motion, silent carriages, tolling bells, howling wolves, and creepy forests to set the macabre mood. The candles, Old World Feeling, secret crypts, great architecture, and period costumes counter the almost comically out of place and unmatched dubbing, but there are some eerie good effects, thankfully. Fun Bats, zooms, and coffins mask the fact that once again, there isn’t much of the titular blood. However, the religious arias are a bit out of place and too reverent for the subject. Likewise, some of the sound effects are more fifties UFOs than scary. Fortunately, a few corsets and kinky bedroom threats accent the household violence, vampy bitch slaps, and whips. Although, I’ve never heard a vampire tell his victim/bride to put some clothes on before! It might have been neat to see a South American set tale rather than the standard Eastern European mold, but the English translations add to the gothic horror homage. Count Frankenhausen has a maid named Hildegard “The servants must call me Frau” and a daughter Bronehilda at his cave the “Haunted Hacienda.” Yes, and did I mention that “Vampirina” is the blood of a vampire? The English track is tough to hear, and it’s all back and forth wooden exposition on deadly flower roots, grave robbings, early autopsies, science versus death, vampire mythos, and secret vampire hunting family histories. It might be a dry translation or stilted from the innate Espanol, but at least this isn’t in the over the top telenovela styling we expect today. The pace does pick up for the last half hour, and once you’re past the niche logistics and morbid humor, then this is a good little hour and a half.

Crypt of the Living Dead – There’s isn’t a lot of information available on this black and white 1973 tale also known by the wonderfully bad title Hannah, Queen of the Vampires.  Andrew Prine (V) looks so young and the architecture and medieval religious designs are well done, yes. But sadly, the drab, colorless photography hampers the fun, gothic atmosphere. Was this later day black and white filming done by production plan or necessity? The editing is also either very poor or there has been some unfortunate film damage, and the plot is a little slow and silent to start, with too many setups and tough to hear dialogue when we do have it. The nighttime action is almost impossible to see as well, and the frantic camerawork and extreme close ups make what should be straightforward scares somewhat confusing. All this production doom and gloom and yet the script and cast actually aren’t that bad. The music and eerie effects are sinister enough, and there’s a historical spin on the then-contemporary skepticism and ethical debates. Die-hard vamp fans looking to have a fun nighttime viewing will enjoy this. However, the finale is a bit overlong and repetitive for horror lay folk, and those low budget values will hinder the natural fears and good scares for today’s more visually treated audiences. 

The Vampire – With such a confusingly plain title, I had to look up this 1957 Mexican horror El Vampiro starring Abel Salazar and German Rubles to make sure I hadn’t already seen it. Fortunately, there’s no mistaking the foggy villa courtyards, Gothic Victorian interiors, hypnotic eyes, and fangs afoot here. This original tale gets right to the screams and neck nibbles, and the black and white patina perfectly matches the don’t go out after sunset warnings. Even the fake bat doesn’t feel hokey amid the fifties train and ingenue in white visiting her sick spinster aunt. The boxes of soil from Hungary, suspicious cape-wearing count, and carriage at the crossroads may seem Stoker-esque to start, however there are some undead surprises – and an older aunt who remains young and reflection-less but thinks all this vampire talk is ridiculous. Torches and tolling bells invoke some medieval funerary alongside crypts, superstitions, and fearful folk crossing themselves. The recently late are buried with crucifix in hand while creepy crescendos accent the phantom ladies in black about the cemetery. Ghostly effects, well-framed shadows, and spooky lighting schemes heighten the ruinous haciendas as well as the suspenseful count and his then-shocking vampire bites – sudden falling books or slamming doors also help build the dangerous mood unlike today’s fake out jump scares. Rather than detract from the horror, just the right amount of humor and a whiff of romance accent the fine dialogue – although despite DVD commentaries and a variety of caption or audio options, the English subtitles don’t exactly match the español. Secret passages, dusty books, and otherworldly singing provide more flavor for a wild finale combining stakes, sunlight, and fire. To be sure, this toothy little number wins with heaps of atmosphere.

The Vampire’s Coffin – Salazar and company returned for this 1958 sequel aka El Ataud del Vampiro, and the two pictures can be found together on the generically named The Vampire Collection set for more howling cemeteries, grave robbers, and disturbed vampire tombs. Of course, it’s amazingly easy for two men to remove such heavy headstones and take a giant coffin to the local hospital for a scientific study, but hey, me want that sweet fifties Hearst! Skeletal reflections, giant wooden stakes – the Gothic creepy moves into unexplained science territory but the old-fashioned hospital retains a gray, mod feeling with scared kids and a cross above the bed. What can modern medicine do compared to a determined monster? Sharp shadows and dark angles add Expressionism accents while staircases and noir pursuits akin a Val Lewton aesthetic. Although a missing vampire about the ward could be laughable, spooky effects, a dark cape, and hypnotized victims add macabre. There is, however, a lacking finesse here thanks to a busy narrative crowded with swanky theater glamour and gruesome wax museum hideouts. Disbelieving medical directors, ritzy routines, and torture devices are all well and good on their own, but one moody, fully embraced locale would have been better. Convenience and poorly choreographed fights aside, the fun finale packs in plenty of rituals, chases, and guillotines, as you do. Ironically, it feels like pieces of this film are borrowed in more recent cliché horror, and despite a general bloodlessness and try hard approach, bared fangs and la Sangre talk keep up the theme.

The Vampire’s Night Orgy – Spanish director Leon Klimovsky (The Dracula Saga) uses an unusual widescreen format for this hour and twenty minutes from 1974. The color is very washed out, too, and unfortunately, the picture is often too dark or tough to see. Like most of the foreign or obscure horror of this era, there are edited versions and lost prints, and some scenes are regrettably dated and look the likes of seventies porn. Thankfully, those are about the only problems here.  Crazy funerals, wild music, and a nutty countess add to the demented ambiance of ticking clocks, creaking doors, and spooky sound effects. The dubbing is actually in sync and performed well, too, with a few words of un-translated Spanish adding to the Euro flavor. From the interesting premise – an en-route house staff’s bus breaks down in a seemingly abandoned town that really has an all too generous blood drinking population – to a bit of kink, nudity, and cannibalism, the screams and foreboding build up are solid. Sure, most of the men look the same with huge mustaches and I’ll be damn, there isn’t a lot of blood to be seen. However, the child actors aren’t annoying, and the vampire violence is well played. One by one, victims are taken down in fast, almost gang rape terror, and the chase finale and twist ending earn top marks. Though in serious need of a restoration and some may have trouble getting past the dated look, this is a nice little scary movie.

The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman – Never ever do an autopsy on a supposed werewolf on a moonlit night!  Just one of the many warnings from this 1971 Spanish treat, the fifth in the loose Waldemar Daninsky series from writer and star Paul Naschy.  Director Leon Klimovsky tackles then-contemporary disbelieving science versus superstition with good screams, fun growls and fangs, zoom attacks, and slow motion eerie.  There’s a good quality of blood, too, and a twisted medieval flashback establishes the satanic ritual roots. Of course, the nighttime photography is almost impossible to see, and the handheld forest camera action is poor. The werewolf makeup and effects may be a bit hokey but considering the low budget foreign production, they suffice. The flowing fashions and happy vamps running thru the glen can seem more like Frodo Lives hippie, I know. However, it is nonetheless very unnerving and effective. Actually, the pop references in the dialogue – such as man walking on the moon, James Bond, and the obligatory “Dracula! Ha ha.” – feels more dated amid the fine gothic history and Euro-style. A touch of lingerie, bloody shackles, and crazy girl on girl suggestion keep the run of the mill acting and yell at the TV moments bemusing.  Cap this eighty plus minutes with unusual monster relationships and cool mod clothes and you have a picture that’s a cut above the standard dollar bin foreign horror. Naturally, multiple video releases, unavailable uncut editions, international reissues, and title changes can make pursuing Naschy’s horror repertoire extremely frustrating.  For fans of retro Euro-horror, however, this is worth the hunt. 

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